$75.2 million capital budget proposed for Howard County Less money allotted for schools, building roads

April 02, 1996|By DAN MORSE | DAN MORSE,SUN STAFF

A headline in Tuesday's Howard County edition of The Sun inaccurately stated that County Executive Charles I. Ecker's proposed capital budget includes a reduction in funds for

road-building. In fact, the proposed capital budget for next fiscal year includes more funds for road-building than this fiscal year's budget.

In the same article, the phone number for those seeking a schedule of budget hearings should have been 313-2001.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker's proposed $75.2 million capital budget for next year would give schools less money than educators requested, provide scant funds for new park projects and scrap plans to build a costly cloverleaf at Route 175 and Snowden River Parkway.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

For that congested Columbia intersection -- and the one nearby at Route 175 and Dobbin Road -- county engineers are proposing a "dispersed movement" intersection, which has long been used in Europe but only once in this country, the engineers said.

A dispersed movement intersection involves setting up additional traffic lights in advance of the intersection for drivers who want to make left turns. These cars are then channeled to new side roads around the key intersection.

Even though this plan would add three traffic signals to Route 175, county engineers say it actually would speed traffic flow because of the way the lights would be timed.

"My first reaction was, this will never work," Mr. Ecker said yesterday. "But after reviewing the computer models [depicting

traffic flow], I now think it will work."

The intersection at Route 175 and Snowden River Parkway is the among county's busiest and most dangerous because of the design because, they say, it will save the county at least $8 million over the cost of a cloverleaf or partial cloverleaf (an interchange with an overpass and ramps that resembles a four-leaf clover) that had been under consideration for the Route and Snowden River Parkway intersection -- money that is becoming harder for the county to find.

Overall, the capital plan outlined by Mr. Ecker yesterday calls for $31.5 million for schools and $15.9 million for roads.

He said school officials should be happy with that amount, given that Howard cannot borrow as much money as it once could. The county now has the highest debt per resident in the state, he said.

School officials said yesterday that they would accept the money, which is about $4 million less than they had requested.

"Even though we might want more, we can live with this," said Associate Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin, who is hoping to receive more funding from the state for capital projects.

During budget discussions on March 22, Mr. Ecker and top education officials discussed schools' spending. Mr. Ecker told them to come up with a proposed list of cuts by the following Monday, said Susan Cook, chairwoman of the school board.

The officials proposed $4 million in cuts that do not directly affect school capacity, said Mr. Ecker and educators. Funding for land acquisition would be cut, and renovations to Guilford Elementary School would be delayed.

Still to be hashed out is the fight over the school's operating budget, which for this current year is $171 million. But Mr. Ecker has said he may not be able to fund state-ordered increases.

Both the capital and operating budgets must be approved by the county's legislative branch -- the five-member County Council. The council's first budget hearing is set for April 23 in the county government building in Ellicott City.

As for his proposed capital budget, Mr. Ecker is counting on a change in the state law to fund all the projects he is proposing.

Under current law, the county must put up a 2-to-1 match on the taxes it collects from developers for road construction. That is, for each dollar collected the county must kick in two dollars from its general fund.

But under a bill moving through the General Assembly, the county could tap into these excise taxes without the match.

Mr. Ecker plans to borrow money for road projects and use $60 million to $70 million in excise taxes from 1999 to 2006, when payments come due for the bonds used to fund the projects. The measure seemed to have support from local politicians interviewed yesterday.

For a schedule of budget hearing, call the Department of Citizen Services, 313-6400.

Pub Date: 4/02/96

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