Capital budget gets tentative approval

But council members seek answers on several projects in the proposal

May 01, 2002|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

The Howard County Council tentatively approved nearly all of County Executive James N. Robey's proposed $97.1 million capital budget yesterday, but held back on several projects some members wanted to examine more closely.

While Councilman Allan H. Kittleman pondered the $2.5 million road proposed for a 25-acre county government office complex in Ellicott City and member Mary C. Lorsung considered using $400,000 in trash collection fees to pay half the cost of a new tax billing system, Chairman C. Vernon Gray knew exactly what he wanted.

"I had a constituent call me who said he was arrested on a warrant for not returning videos since 1995. Why do you want to waste your time for that?" Gray asked a startled Police Chief Wayne Livesay, who was there to talk about long planned renovations to the county's 22-year-old animal shelter.

County police are in the midst of a 90-day campaign to lower the number of outstanding warrants. One, according to Gray, was an old theft warrant for his constituent's overdue video tapes.

"Here's a $3 video and we're going to spend hundreds of dollars to deliver the warrant," Gray continued. If the court can get the offender's address, why can't the video vendor, Gray wanted to know. And why, he asked, can't the court send a warning letter before sending police officers to arrest someone on such a charge?

Livesay said officers have no choice in such cases.

"We don't issue the warrants," he said. The police are required by law to arrest those named by the courts.

Gray was then engulfed in a wave of laughter in the George Howard Building hearing room after someone from the Republican end of the council table wondered aloud if the offender's name might be Vernon Gray, but the veteran east Columbia Democrat denied that.

"There's no constituent concern that's too little for me to deal with," he said.

On the capital budget, western county Republican Kittleman wanted more time to think about building a roadway from Rogers Avenue through the wooded county government campus site to Ridge Road on the other side.

"We don't have money to do bridges, but we have money to do a road for something that won't be ready for years?" he asked. James M. Irvin, the public works director, said the road would help ease traffic congestion on Ridge Road, adding that bridge projects can safely wait another year, when more federal money may be available.

Lorsung, a west Columbia Democrat, questioned an $800,000 project to buy and install a new county tax billing and collection system, because half the funding would come from the county's $125-per- household trash collection fee's receipts. If trash collection costs go up, will there be enough revenue to pay for it, she wondered.

Raymond S. Wacks, the county budget director, said the project is vital and the trash-fee money was available.

The council will begin considering the $824 million operating budget at 7 p.m. tomorrow in the George Howard Building, with a public hearing on all items except public schools. A separate hearing on the school budget is scheduled at 9 a.m. Saturday.

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