School board expansion bill put off

Local legislators also delay measure for training academy

November 29, 2001|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Howard County's state legislators postponed votes last night on whether to support expansion of the county school board and to ask the state for money to help build a police and fire training academy, but approved four other local bills.

Two other measures - to authorize the school board to levy property taxes to pay for schools, and to prohibit gas stations from obtaining liquor licenses - were withdrawn by their sponsors at the work session held in the George Howard Building in Ellicott City.

"I know the votes aren't here for this, although there are a lot of people who think the [school] board should have taxing authority," said sponsoring Del. Donald E. Murphy.

Del. Elizabeth Bobo asked to hold her bill, which would expand the school board and change the length of members' terms, in hopes of getting the measure passed in January, after the departure of state Sen. Martin G. Madden, who opposed the bill last year.

Legislators were leery of a county bond request for $500,000 in state matching funds to help build a facility for county police and fire training because County Executive James N. Robey's administration has not identified a site.

They held the bill over the strenuous objections of Del. James E. Malone Jr., a Baltimore County firefighter, who talked about the hundreds of firefighters and police officers killed in the terrorist attack in New York.

Other legislators said they favor the concept, but want to be fully prepared before introducing the bill in Annapolis. Robey administration officials have said they will identify a location for the facility soon.

The legislators supported three other bond bills - seeking $500,000 to help renovate the mansion house at Blandair, the 300-acre estate in Columbia that is slated to become a park; $400,000 to renovate space in the county courts building for a new courtroom, holding cells and jury deliberation rooms; and $1 million to help the Traditional Acupuncture Institute expand to a new campus on Johns Hopkins Road.

Several officials said that despite an expected budget shortfall next year, there is always $20 million available for local capital projects.

"We want to be at least in the game," said Del. Frank S. Turner, House delegation chairman.

But the House minority leader, Republican Del. Robert H. Kittleman, criticized the process - and especially the $20 million he characterized as "pork" that Gov. Parris N. Glendening uses "for crowd control."

Legislators trade votes and line up to support the governor on bills they might otherwise oppose to get some funding for a favored local project, he said, noting, however, that "we're stuck with it [the process]."

In another bill, the delegation approved pay raises for Orphans' Court judges, but reduced the requests.

Associate judges will get $8,000 a year instead of the current $6,380, while the chief judges pay will go from $7,400 to $9,500 at the suggestion of state Sen. Christopher J. McCabe. The judges had asked for raises to $10,000 and $12,000 respectively.

Typically, local legislation that applies only to one county lives or dies by the vote of that county's state legislators, although all bills must eventually be approved by the entire General Assembly.

Howard's school board, the PTA Council and education advocates have spoken in support of the bill to enlarge the school board from five to seven members and shorten members' terms from six to four years, but the idea was defeated last year.

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