Tax rates are not going up next year in Howard County, but it's likely to be more expensive to live there.
That's because the local government is proposing charging higher fees for services such as trash pickup and recreational activities, as illustrated last night during another hearing on County Executive Charles I. Ecker's proposed $336.5 million operating budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
"A class will cost you more. A pavilion rental will cost you more. A hot dog will cost you more," said Jeffrey Bourne, director of the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks, describing proposed increased fees for his department.
The county also is proposing a $125-per-household trash fee.
Throughout the state, local governments are increasing fees. The philosophy: Those who use government services should pay for them more directly.
In Howard, increased fees do not mean the government is not making cuts.
Last night, one department head after another told the County Council about proposed spending cuts of 1 percent to 6 percent.
James N. Rollins, the jail director, said he has cut roll call from 15 minutes to seven minutes. That will save him $86,000 a year, because corrections officers earn overtime pay during roll call, he said.
Bourne, too, is cutting back. For the $5.2 million part of his budget not funded by fees -- a part that includes maintenance for parks that are free to the public -- he is proposing $152,520 worth of cuts.
Most departments are achieving cuts by not filling vacant positions. The county government spends more than 70 percent of its money on workers' pay, said Ray Wacks, county budget administrator.
Overall, spending cuts in the Ecker budget proposal total about $5.5 million, but some of that is offset by funding for new programs, Wacks said. Ecker is proposing that the property tax rate remain as is -- $2.59 per $100 of assessed value.
The county government still will spend about $15.5 million more for next year in an effort to keep up with the growing population. The big spending increases: Schools, payment on debts and trash pickup.
The county will fund the increase primarily through the trash fee and revenue gains associated with growth. With the trash fees factored in, next year's budget total increases to $344.1 million, a 4.73 percent gain over the current budget, according to county figures.
"That's the reality of the big-ticket items," said Darrel Drown of Ellicott City, the Republican chairman of the council.
Ecker does not have direct control over schools and payments on the county's debt. And the trash pickup is increasing dramatically because the county has decided to close the last of its three old landfills and begin shipping garbage out of Howard.
Drown said Ecker, also a Republican, has cut spending in the areas that he controls. "You can see it department by department, they almost all had cuts," he said last night.
Councilwoman Mary C. Lorsung of West Columbia -- in perhaps the toughest questioning during the rapidly moving hearing -- said she wanted to know why there was no cut proposed for the Howard County Economic Development Authority.
In fact, there is a slight increase in its funding request, from $515,290 to $525,700.
Lorsung pointed out that some social service agencies are being hit hard.
"Frankly, I'm a little surprised that there wasn't a decrease," she said.
After the meeting, Richard Story, executive director of the economic authority, said his agency will seek an increase in corporate donations. But he added that corporate leaders are apt to say, "If the county hasn't kept up its funding for something as important as economic development, why should we?"
Story will detail his budget during a County Council work session scheduled for May 16. The council is scheduled to vote on the entire budget the following week.
Budget discussions will continue tonight. Residents are invited to speak or question council members at 7 p.m. at the county government complex's George Howard Building in Ellicott City.
The average Howard resident pays about $3,200 in county taxes -- based on a $180,000 home and a $65,000 household income -- according to the budget office. That total does not include taxes for fire and rescue services, water and sewer fees or the proposed $125 trash fee.
Pub Date: 5/07/96