Emergency storm fund tapped out

$250,000 is spent, but `no shutdown' helps, says Robey

$200,000 in overtime saved

Council reschedules session to discuss cable, new trucks

January 27, 2000|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

This month's two snowstorms have more than exhausted Howard County's $250,000 storm emergency fund, but county officials say the news isn't all bad.

By keeping county government open under a liberal leave policy for Tuesday and Wednesday despite the heavy snow, County Executive James N. Robey said the county saved over $200,000 in overtime pay that would have gone to essential employees who must work anyway, like police, fire and public works crews.

"We installed a policy in 1997, after the '96 blizzard. Government should not be closed -- it sends the wrong message," Robey said, since essential services never cease anyway.

FOR THE RECORD - In an article published Wednesday in the Howard County edition of The Sun, an incorrect date was reported for a rescheduled meeting on planned improvements in a section of Hall Shop Road between Guilford Road and Route 108. Originally scheduled for this week, the meeting has been rescheduled for Feb. 16 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Ellicott Room of the George Howard Building, Ellicott City.
The Sun regrets the error.

Raymond S. Wacks, county budget director, who said he took a leave day Tuesday after all of his meetings were canceled, said the county has nearly $1 million left in a contingency fund to pay for more storms this winter.

Most of the storm expense goes to pay overtime to road crews working more than a normal eight-hour day. Many of those workers, Wacks said, were on the job for 24 hours at a stretch.

County highways chief Andrew Daneker said his 80 workers came to work between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. Tuesday, and worked until 9 p.m. or 10 p.m. that night. Using cots set up in the county's six highway yards, the workers slept for three to four hours before resuming plowing that was to be finished by 8 o'clock last night. " A lot of them sleep in their trucks," Daneker said.

Two snowplows were stationed at each county fire station over Tuesday night to hit spots where drifting snow became a problem.

Meanwhile, two public meetings canceled Tuesday have been rescheduled. An informal public workshop on improvements planned for sections of Hall Shop Road between Guilford Road and Route 108 has been rescheduled for Feb. 1, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Ellicott Room of the George Howard Building.

The County Council's work session was rescheduled for Feb. 3, at 4: 30 p.m., in the council's offices in the George Howard Building in Ellicott City. At issue is council approval of Comcast Cablevision's purchase of Mid-Atlantic Cable, the firm that provides cable service to about 3,000 Howard residents in the rural western county.

The council is also considering whether to approve sale of $4 million worth of bonds to pay for the replacement of five fire engine pumpers and 31 other large pieces of off-road equipment, some of which date to the early 1970s. A vote is scheduled at the Feb. 7 legislative meeting.

The county's oldest front-end loader, used to mix and load road salt and cinders into highway dump trucks at the Dayton highways yard, broke down again Tuesday at the height of the snowstorm, said A. Roy Stecher, chief of the Bureau of Central Services.

After being out of service for half the last year waiting for repairs, the 1972 Caterpillar missed another three hours of service when its alternator failed, Stecher said.

Council members, especially Chairwoman Mary C. Lorsung , a West Columbia Democrat, are wary of financing the equipment purchases outside the normal budget process. Lorsung said she is hesitant to do so although she doesn't question the need.

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