SO HOW do two highly competitive political rivals who hope to be Howard County executive come up with the same tax relief proposal at the same time?
Last week, County Council Chairman Guy Guzzone, a north Laurel-Savage Democrat, and Councilman Christopher J. Merdon, an Ellicott City Republican, last week proposed freezing property taxes for limited-income homeowners who are 65 or older or totally disabled. The money would be recouped whenever the house is sold. Guzzone also proposed a second bill to give more low-income homeowners of all ages tax credits under a state program by raising the maximum qualifying income ceiling from $28,000 to $40,000 a year. Merdon, whose bill was co-sponsored by western county Republican Councilman Charles C. Feaga, said later he approves of that idea, too.
Was it coincidence? Espionage? Guzzone and Merdon said they didn't know.
"I had been vetting it with people in the community," so the ideas were out there, Guzzone said. "I'm happy he agrees with the concept."
Merdon said he came up with the idea on his own, working with County Council staff members.
"I think we have very few tools available to us," he said. "Knowing that, it's not surprising we came up with a plan that's very similar."
County Executive James N. Robey, who is due to announce his proposed budget April 18, could shed no light on the mystery.
"I have no idea. I wouldn't even begin to speculate," he said, chuckling.
Guzzone announced Feb. 23 at an Annapolis meeting of county legislators that he planned to introduce a tax relief plan in April.
Merdon promptly denounced that as base political maneuvering, and Guzzone responded in kind.
On Tuesday, one day before council bills slated for introduction in April must be filed, Merdon called a news conference to announce a tax reduction plan of his own. Guzzone then revealed his plans, and though the two men said they had not discussed it, Merdon's bill was virtually identical to one of Guzzone's.
The only difference is the income limit. Guzzone's bill would qualify people with household incomes under $75,000, while Merdon's initially used a formula of 80 percent of the area median income, which is $57,750. He later said that was lower than he intended and he planned to change it to a percentage of Howard County's median income - or about $80,000.
"This is like name-calling in the schoolyard," said Donald F. Norris, a University of Maryland, Baltimore County political science professor who is a Howard resident. The fight over taxes is a national one that has not helped the level of political discourse, he said.
"This is all driven by the Republican right-wing agenda. You see it all across the country, in Florida, Arizona. The Republicans have been pushing it, and the Democrats have to react to it," Norris said.
What gets lost, he said, is a serious discussion of community needs and how to provide for them.
Howard County's Western Regional Park has generated controversy among residents fearful that it is too big, while owners of local private recreational facilities are worried about competition.
None of that was in evidence during Wednesday's rain and windstorm, however, at the crowded indoor groundbreaking for a new 50,000-square-foot, $13.8 million community/senior center just behind the Glenwood library on the 190-acre property.
For years, seniors used an old house that was demolished in October, and now are temporarily housed in St. Michael's Roman Catholic Church in Mount Airy.
The new facility will include a classroom for fine arts and crafts, continuing education, computer training, dance, exercise and meetings. A gym with a three-lane jogging track, basketball and volleyball courts, fitness rooms and lockers and showers is planned.
Phyllis Madachy, director of the county's Office on Aging, said the facility, due for completion in 17 months, will break new ground in intergenerational activities because it will servce seniors and children.
A woman who kept lookout while her husband destroyed two Bush-Cheney campaign signs with a bayonet on U.S. 40 in Ellicott City in October was convicted of malicious destruction of property last week. District Court Judge Pamila J. Brown gave Stephanie L. Lizon of Randallstown 12 months of unsupervised probation, ordered her to pay $55 in court costs and fined her $500, but suspended $450 of that amount. She was found not guilty on charges of conspiracy to destroy property.
Contact the writer at 410- 715-2810, or larry.carson@balt sun.com.