Council OKs rise in taxicab fares

Panel also agrees to fund shift to help purchase 25 acres

`A good idea and prudent'

Kittleman favors acquiring parcel, but is unsure on its use

January 04, 2000|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

The Howard County Council approved last night a slight increase in taxicab fares and a transfer of funds to help buy 25 acres of land in Ellicott City for a new government office complex.

The votes on both measures were unanimous, though western county Republican Allan H. Kittleman warned that he supported only the purchase of land, and is reserving judgment on what should be built on the acreage a half-mile from the county office complex.

"It's important that we purchase this land," Kittleman said. It is "a good idea and prudent" because it is the last large, undeveloped parcel in the county seat. He said development of the land is another matter.

County Executive James N. Robey proposed the purchase to provide space for a consolidation of county offices in Ellicott City over the next decade.

To pay for the land, the council approved the transfer of $1.5 million left over from a project to cap the New Cut Road landfill. capping project. The rest of the $3.175 million purchase price for the wooded land along Rogers Avenue, between Ridge Road and U.S. 40, will come from money budgeted for land acquisition.

When Robey proposed buying the land, he said he wanted to centralize county offices that are now scattered in several locations. In recent years, the government has bought office space whenever a building became available -- often at bargain prices. Now, with the recession only a memory, Robey's plan is to sell those buildings to finance new ones in the county seat.

A recent consultant's study predicted that the county will need an extra 147,000 square feet of office space in the next few years. The consultant also said that despite a major addition a decade ago, the county courthouse in historic Ellicott City is again bursting at the seams.

Base fare higher

Concerning cab fares, the council approved increases of 5 cents to $2.65 for the first mile of a trip and 20 cents to $1.40 for each additional mile. A five-mile trip will now cost $7.45, an increase of 85 cents.

Howard County cabdrivers last had a fare increase in 1991.

Frank Osei-Bonsu, owner of Columbia Cab Co., the county's largest with about 60 cabs, had sought rates similar to those in Montgomery County, where a five-mile ride costs $8.60.

Cabdrivers also want increases in surcharges -- taking a passenger outside Howard County, driving at night, carrying a passenger who has more than four grocery bags.

Sang W. Oh, Robey's executive assistant who negotiated the increases with the industry, said he wanted to move forward with a per-mile increase now and sort out the more complicated issue of the surcharges later.

"What is a grocery bag?" Oh said, explaining that the contents of several plastic grocery bags might fill only one paper grocery sack.

Members express sympathy

At a public hearing last month, drivers told the council that fare increases have an impact on tips, which are an important part of their income.

Columbia Democrats C. Vernon Gray and Mary C. Lorsung, who also is council chairwoman, expressed sympathy for the cab industry.

Gray said he supports higher surcharges for some services, such as carrying large numbers of grocery bags and driving out of the county.

If the Robey administration takes too long to do it, "I will be working on legislation" to do so, Gray said.

Lorsung said "some of the other [rate] requests should be looked at."

The drivers complained that grocery runs, especially in Columbia, are usually one mile or less, and riders sometimes have numerous bags.

Also last night, the Robey administration introduced legislation that would allow county police to hire a spokesman outside the civil service system. The appointed position would pay a range of $42,432 to $62,629 a year.

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