IT MAY BE a cliche, but "pay now or pay later" describes Howard County's options for repairing and replacing aging storm water pipes and drains.
The work has to be done before a system failure causes even more expense. Yet the county's elected officials in the past have succumbed to public pressure instead to invest extra money in schools and public safety.
County Executive Charles I. Ecker, whose eight-year tenure ends Dec. 7, says one of his few regrets is not having established a long-range plan to pay for improvements in the storm water drainage system.
For several years, the county's Spending Affordability Advisory Committee has recommended setting aside funds to pay for drainage improvements. Some extra money has been budgeted but not nearly enough to meet the recommendations of a storm-water task force.
Andrew Daneker, chief of the county Bureau of Highways, said the task force issued a 1996 report that concluded the county should roughly triple the $1.8 million it spends annually on storm water management to $5.8 million.
Some older residential areas of the county, including Elkridge and Ellicott City, have drainage pipes that date to the 19th century. Even in newer residential areas such as Columbia, some pipes are reaching their estimated 25- to 30-year life span. Beyond replacing older pipes, the county must comply with new federal regulations to reduce pollution of streams and rivers from storm runoff.
The task force suggested that a separate fund, comparable to the solid waste disposal fund, be set up to pay for storm drainage improvements. Taxpayers would be required to pay a fee similar to the $125 per household trash fee. Instead of ending the trash tax, as some have suggested, perhaps the measure can be altered to designate a portion of that revenue to storm water management. Either way, it's time to pay.
Pub Date: 11/23/98