Pleas for capital projects may be wishful thinking $25 million debt ceiling will hinder new proposals

February 13, 1996|By Dan Morse | Dan Morse,SUN STAFF

An article in yesterday's Howard County edition inaccurately reported that a new library is to be built on Cradlerock Way in East Columbia. In fact, that library opened in 1994, but the county still faces litigation expenses stemming from the project.

The Sun regrets the error.

Cameras perched on traffic lights to snap pictures of people who run red lights. More jogging and bicycle paths. A new library in East Columbia.

In years past, Howard County could afford these and other proposed projects that were discussed at a Planning Board hearing last night.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

But times have changed. County Executive Charles I. Ecker has put a $25 million ceiling on debt for new projects in the fiscal year that begins July 1, making last night's Planning Board hearing -- a routine first step in the annual capital budget debate -- somewhat of an exercise in wishful thinking.

Up to half of the projects could be delayed. "Something has to give," said Alan Ferragamo, a top official in the county's Public Works Department.

Government agencies are seeking approximately $110 million worth of projects, which would be funded through various sources -- the largest source being borrowed funds, or bonds, according to county documents.

The amount of bonds being sought is the key. The agencies have asked for about $52 million in bonds, $27 million over Mr. Ecker's ceiling. Over the past three years, the county issued an average of $49 million in bonds a year, according to budget officials.

The school system and the highway division are seeking a total of at least $35 million in bonds, according to school and county officials. The schools and road projects are Mr. Ecker's top two priorities.

That will leave parks, police, fire and other departments scrambling to get at least some of their desired projects funded.

At last night's hearing, 18 people spoke for and against proposed projects, fewer than in years past, county officials said. There were not as many projects to get excited -- or upset -- about, they said.

The project that drew the most speakers, six, was the proposed construction of a $240,000 water main to serve six properties on Rockburn Hill Road in Elkridge. Residents who live on the north side of Rockburn Hill Road said their wells are dry and supported the project. Those on the south side, who said they have adequate wells, opposed the project, which would cost them several hundred dollars a year in taxes.

Opponents of the water main can take heart that the county has proposed funding it all through bonds, which will not necessarily be available.

Other projects that could be delayed include:

* Traffic light cameras, which would cost a total of $500,000 and would go on 10 traffic lights along undesignated intersections of major roads. The county would have to get approval from the state before setting up the cameras.

* $1.5 million to build pathways linking Alpha Ridge Park, David Force Park, Centennial Park, Lake Elkhorn, King's Contrivance and following the Little Patuxent River to Savage Park -- a total of 30 miles, according to county records. The project would last more than this year and is expected to cost a total $6.5 million.

* The $8.3 million East Columbia library, only $150,000 of which would be appropriated in 1997. The library would be built off Cradlerock Way, according to county records.

* $2.35 million to move the Clarksville Fire Station a short distance. The current station is hampered by traffic congestion at the intersection of Route 32 and 108, records show.

* $2.1 million to renovate the Howard County Police Department headquarters in Ellicott City.

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