Council discusses revenues, pet issues

Banneker hearing room due for renovations

July 16, 2002|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Topics from pet droppings to dropping revenues occupied the Howard County Council at last night's monthly public hearing, the last gathering in the coun ty's 26-year-old Banneker hear ing room before renovations.

Work will begin soon to raise the floor of the rounded, stadium-seating style chamber, to al low easier access for handi capped people. It should be complete by Sept. 16, when the council reopens after the hiatus next month.

Meanwhile, the old room got one more dose of the kind of ev eryday issues that perhaps spawned the truism that "all politics are local."

Jacob Villella of Elkridge came to complain about neighbors who allow their dogs to use his lawn - where his children play - for a bathroom, and to support a bill increasing fines for animal nuisances.

"I have personally experi enced the nuisance of pet drop pings in my yard." Villella testi fied. He suggested changing current procedure to allow anonymous complaints, rather than forcing neighbors to file signed affidavits and risk start ing a feud.

And county Republicans came to support an election year proposal to ask voters to approve a way of forcing the Democrat controlled county government to replenish the county's Rainy Day Fund after a year of budget shortfalls without waiting for budget surpluses.

C. Vernon Gray, an east Co lumbia Democrat, has spon sored a bill that would fine first- time animal nuisance offenders $200. The fine would rise to $500 for a fourth offense.

The fine now for a first offense is $25. County Police Chief Wayne Livesay said he generally favors the bill, but would not want fines raised so sharply. The next highest first-offense fine in the area, if Gray's bill is ap proved, is $100 in Baltimore, Livesay said. "Somewhere in the middle would be fine with me."

"Our concern is that people may say "keep it,"' when their dogs are caught and taken to the county animal shelter, Livesay said, because other re trieval fees can add up to $100.

Gray, who last night was at tending a National Association of Counties convention in New Orleans, introduced the bill, which also would require the county to distribute a pamphlet to each pet license buyer sum marizing county animal laws. The pamphlets are now given out on request.

No other item up for a vote July 29 is a Republican proposal to change the county charter to require at least 0.5 percent of the previous year's general fund spending be reserved for deposit in the Rainy Day Fund until it is a full 7 percent of the county's budget.

Co-sponsor Allan H. Kittleman, a western county Republican, said he and Ellicott City Republican Christopher J. Merdon are merely suggesting that Howard County follow the same rule used by Maryland. If in effect now, Merdon said, it would require a $2 million de posit in the Rainy Day Fund this year.

Revenue shortfalls last fiscal year forced County Executive James N. Robey to ask the County Council for authority to take up to $15 million from the fund, which was created after the recession a decade ago.

Although Robey has said he will submit a plan for replen ishing the fund with his budget proposal in April, Kittleman and Merdon are not satisfied. Currently, the fund is replenished when there are surpluses.

"The problem I saw is that we are not going to see surpluses in the next several years." Kit tleman said last night. "We just can't wait."

Steven H. Adler, the Republican county executive candidate, used the measure to tee off again on Robey for "poor fiscal planning' and again predicted that if Robey is re-elected, he will raise taxes.

That brought an equally par tisan response from Tony McGuffin , an Ellicott City Dem ocrat running for House of Dele gates in western County District 9A. "I think this is election year political posturing." he said. "I think we can trust our county executive."

Kittleman and Merdon denied partisan motives, and Kittleman said he would have sponsored the same bill on his first day in office if he had seen the problem coming.

Four of the five council votes are needed to put the item on the ballot, which seems an un likely goal since a similar item Republicans offered as a resolution in June died on a 3-2 party- line vote July 1.

Currently, the fund holds $28 million. County officials have not determined what the budget shortfall will be.

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