Proposal to limit tax increases is rejected

GOP councilmen vote against amended measure

Petition drive under way

Howard County

July 07, 2004|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

The Howard County Council's two Republicans voted last night to kill their tax-limiting charter amendment after the three majority Democrats amended it with what one GOP member called a "poison pill."

"I'm really frustrated to work so long on something and have it amended so I can't vote for it," western county Republican Allan H. Kittleman said. Proposals to change the county charter require support from four of the five council members to be placed on the November election ballot.

The charter amendment sponsored by Kittleman and fellow Republican Christopher J. Merdon of Ellicott City would require that a super-majority of four of the five council members pre-approve any request for an income or property tax increase from the county executive -- an idea Democrats have opposed.

County Republicans are also backing a petition drive by the Howard County Taxpayers Association that would put the Kittleman-Merdon charter amendment on the ballot if the group can gather 10,000 signatures by mid-August.

Last night, Kittleman and Merdon also voted to kill 14 proposed charter amendments recommended by a citizens commission. Merdon said he felt that county voters should not be confronted with more than two or three of the complex issues in one election.

"I think it's too much. People look at it and go blank," Merdon said after the monthly voting session. But west Columbia Democrat Ken Ulman said the long list of killed charter amendments is a good example of what happens when an elected majority doesn't control the council. "The minority rules," he said.

Council Chairman Guy Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat, said, "I trust the citizens a lot more."

Despite that, charter commission chairwoman Ann Balcerzak said later that she was not surprised that most of the issues were defeated and that she did not take it personally. Merdon said he would be satisfied with two charter amendments on the ballot for each of the next few elections. In 1996, Howard voters were presented with nine charter changes.

For the tax limit amendment, Guzzone introduced two changes -- both endorsed yesterday by County Executive James N. Robey, whose 30 percent income tax increase last year prompted the introduction of the charter amendment.

Each of Guzzone's amendments would have allowed the executive to ask for a tax increase under current rules if overall state revenues were cut, or if the county's quality of life would be reduced without new taxes.

For the quality-of-life amendment, the council would have had to set standards for public safety, public works, library services and education.

The Republicans voted to approve the first amendment, with Merdon pointing out that overall state aid to the county has increased each year for the past nine years and is unlikely to decline. But they balked at the quality-of-life amendment, labeling it too vague.

In other action, the council voted unanimously to restrict commercial trash haulers to a schedule between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. at businesses within 500 feet of a residence. Merdon sponsored the bill after residents complained about noise.

The council also approved the annual school enrollment chart that limits development around crowded schools three years into the future under the county's Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance. The delay is designed to allow time to make changes to reduce overcrowding at schools that are 15 percent or more over capacity.

As in past years, the uncertainties in predicting school enrollment are creating more anxiety than reassurance. A new western elementary school planned for Dayton will free most of the western county from development restraints in 2007, but crowding at Bushy Park Elementary will delay more building there and around Lisbon Elementary at the county's westernmost tip.

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