Final refining is done on new spending plan

County Council scheduled for budget vote tomorrow

Suggestions by GOP are rejected

Robey also reveals use for freed-up local funds

May 21, 2002|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Final adjustments to Howard County's proposed $824 million budget were made late yesterday as County Council members took tentative straw votes on a few late changes, and County Executive James N. Robey revealed how he would spend $2.45 million more in local funds freed by added state school construction money.

The County Council is scheduled to formally vote on the proposed budget at noon tomorrow.

The last few maneuvers carried a political tinge this election year as one council member offered, then withdrew one amendment, while suggestions from the council's two Republicans were rejected in a series of 3-2 party-line votes.

Councilman Allan H. Kittleman, a western county Republican, proposed eliminating $2.5 million in excise taxes to build a road through the 25-acre Ellicott City site where the Robey administration hopes to eventually build a government office complex. Kittleman also proposed a $6,500 cut in the Board of Elections budget, trimming increases for food and travel by board employees.

"I don't see a need to put the road in now," he said, adding that if the road is built, it could become a justification for buildings to follow. "We aren't sure what's going to happen there."

Councilwoman Mary C. Lorsung, a west Columbia Democrat, had prepared an amendment to cut $15,000 designated for "transition expenses" in case a new executive is elected in November - but she withdrew it before a vote. The cut was "just in case" a tough political fight broke out, she said. Robey, a Democrat, is seeking re-election.

A suggestion by Councilman Christopher J. Merdon, an Ellicott City Republican, that $200,000 "found" because of a clerical error in the Board of Elections budget be deposited in the Rainy Day Fund rather than given to county schools also was rejected. Merdon, who warned that lean revenue years might be ahead, abstained on a motion to give the money to schools, while Kittleman voted "no" in the 3-1 vote.

Robey earlier announced how he would use part of the extra $4.5 million in state school construction money. With the last piece, he will direct $955,000 in bond funds to design a community-senior center in Glenwood, $400,000 more to U.S. 1 safety projects, $300,000 for general road resurfacing and $135,000 for traffic improvements on Whiskey Bottom Road.

The final scuffle over the budget came near the end of a rough budget year for the Robey administration. The recession hit Robey's current budget hard, producing a projected $18 million shortfall. In response, he is asking council approval to spend up to $15 million of the Rainy Day Fund to help make up the difference.

The Board of Elections error was discovered late Friday, when board Administrator Robert J. Antonetti said he found that the number of polling-place judges needed to examine books of voters' names on election day had been counted twice.

David S. White, school budget officer, said the money would pay for one or two new special education teachers and six teaching assistants. The board had earlier received $300,000 more for land acquisition, and $750,000 more in operating funds freed for use by the receipt of the extra state school construction money.

If there were few fireworks at the informal budget discussion, the council's monthly public hearing last night produced some from dozens of Elkridge residents, but on a different issue. That dispute is over a county plan to close Hanover Road in Elkridge to stop traffic crossing railroad tracks at the border between Howard and Anne Arundel counties.

One group favors the move to reduce through traffic, while another faction opposes it. The issue is scheduled for a council vote June 3.

Public Works Director James M. Irvin said the plan two years ago was to make safety improvements near the tracks, but many residents said they would rather see the link closed. A large industrial park is being built on the Anne Arundel side.

But a group led by Gail Sigel, who has collected hundreds of signatures, wants the road kept open for convenience and to keep traffic off other streets.

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