Howard delegation approves four bills

January 31, 2002|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Legislation that would return $1.2 million in real estate taxes to Howard County and seek more state money to help build a new public safety training facility in Marriottsville was approved without opposition by county legislators meeting in Annapolis yesterday.

Other unanimous votes gave final approval to bills that would shorten Howard school board members' terms from six to four years and raise the pay for the county's Orphans' Court judges.

The unanimous endorsement of the Howard delegation is an important first step in the approval of bills in the Assembly, and in cases where state spending is not involved, it often assures passage.

County Executive James N. Robey led a high-level administration contingent to Annapolis to support the request for $500,000 in matching state funding to help plan and build the training facility at the Alpha Ridge Landfill along Interstate 70. A community meeting on the proposed facility drew only a dozen citizens Monday.

"What better place to put a facility like this, between a dump and an interstate highway?" Robey asked.

Armed with large drawings of plans for the site's phased development and backed by the police and fire chiefs and James M. Irvin, the county public works director, Robey made clear that he considers the facility vital. After the vote, Robey said the county will push ahead with the project even if the state money is not approved.

"We cannot go around the state of Maryland begging and borrowing training facilities," Robey said. "I can promise you, we will be good neighbors."

"I take it you will go that extra mile [to work with residents]," said Del. Robert L. Flanagan, who represents the area. Robey agreed. Flanagan replied, "We plan to hold you to your word."

The executive said he deliberately kept the proposed location of the facility quiet until last week because "I didn't want this to get out [early] - and sit out there and rot," with unfounded rumors about noise and disruption floating through the community. Robey released the location last week and held a community meeting right away, he said, to get accurate information out.

For example, he said a fire department burn building that will be built in a later phase of the project will not use petroleum-based fuels that would create black smoke. Propane and natural gas will be used, along with artificial smoke that will not pollute the air. The site will have a skid pad - but not a full driving course - to teach fire truck drivers how to handle their very heavy trucks. Controlled skids will be at low speeds to create minimum noise. Fire vehicles are not allowed at a state police driver training course a few miles north in Sykesville, Carroll County. And even for police, the Sykesville facility is booked a year in advance, officials said.

Howard police have a gun-firing range at the Alpha Ridge site now. Access is from a partially paved road off Sand Hill Road, and the range sits just behind a new development of expensive homes, called Sand Hill Estates. The 30-acre site will be developed in four phases, at a cost of up to $10 million, officials have said.

Robey said the county will include nearby residents in planning for lights and landscaping. "We will not be up there at 10, 11, 12 at night," he said. "This is the best site."

The delegation also approved without comment a bill that would allow Circuit Court Clerk Margaret B. Rappaport to continue collecting transfer and recordation taxes, but would pay the state $300,000 for services related to collection, instead of the $1.5 million paid last year. County legislators worried last week that giving the county that excess money might hurt the state's hard pressed budget this recession year. Robey is facing a projected $18 million county shortfall, however, and said the money would be "a big help."

Del. Frank S. Turner, House delegation chairman, said the vote on the real estate tax bill was delayed last week because "I didn't want a split vote on the bill." Howard's legislators now must try to sell the idea to other Assembly members.

The vote on the length of school board members' terms was a formalization of a vote last week on an amendment to a bill by Del. Elizabeth Bobo to both shorten terms and expand the board from five to seven members. That portion of the bill was removed, however, at the suggestion of Sen. Robert H. Kittleman.

The part-time Orphans' Court judges, who handle wills and estates, asked for a pay raise from $6,380 to $10,000 a year for associate judges, and from $7,400 to $12,000 a year for the chief judge. Instead, the legislators approved raises to $8,000 and $9,500 respectively.

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