County a big winner in state's budget sweepstakes

POLITICAL NOTEBOOK

April 03, 2005|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

THE COLUMBIA Association is a big winner in the annual General Assembly capital budget sweepstakes, getting $475,000 for lake dredging from State Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, who chairs the Senate's capital budget committee.

In addition, Howard County will get $450,000 in state funds for planning a new community center and park in North Laurel, plus $300,000 to continue work on Blandair Mansion in east Columbia. The state money must be matched by the county and comes from separate action by House and Senate General Assembly committees. Each chamber has $12.5 million to divide for local projects.

Kasemeyer said the lake dredging money was cut from Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s budget, so he included it in the Senate's discretionary funds.

"It's like a lot of things. We help a lot of people," Kasemyer said.

The new money is enough to move both county projects forward, according to Gary J. Arthur, the recreation and parks director. "We'll go back next year and try to get the rest," he said. The county had asked for $500,000 each for the mansion and the park.

Columbia Association officials have sought help with dredging for years, but the money for lake dredging was a surprise since there had been no public discussion of it by the county's legislative delegation.

The homeowners association plans to spend $1.7 million to dredge one-third of Lake Elkhorn in the year beginning May 1, followed later by the dredging of Lake Kittamaqundi, which takes on silt when the Patuxent River, which flows next to the lake, floods.

"There's no doubt in anybody's mind that our lakes are collecting upstream silt," said Joshua Feldmark, chairman of the Columbia Association board.

Another bond request from Del. Gail H. Bates for $500,000 in seed money for an Ellicott City garage was killed because the Senate did not approve it, Kasemeyer said.

Smile for the camera

Sometimes, irony lies behind the posed smiles of elected officials at those ceremonial photo opportunities they love. An event last week in Laurel promoting affordable housing and redevelopment along the U.S. 1 corridor is a good example.

Ehrlich appeared for the kind of quick visit politicians crave -- a chance to give away oversized checks to the locals. Ehrlich gave $150,000 in state funds to Howard County Executive James N. Robey to help pay for a new $13 million project of moderate-income housing and commercial development in the 9900 block of U.S. 1. The county is also using $575,000 in federal funds to help buy the land and had asked for $500,000 in state funds for more land purchases, but Robey said he is grateful for the state's contribution.

A listener might have thought the effusive Republican governor and the low-profile Democratic county executive who stood behind him were best buddies, despite Robey's bitter complaints last summer that he had been repeatedly and pointedly snubbed by Ehrlich administration officials at similar events. Robey was barred from entering the state's tent at the 2004 Preakness at Pimlico Race Course.

"We have a terrific relationship," Ehrlich said about Robey, as a small crowd listened.

To Ehrlich's left stood Howard County Councilman Christopher J. Merdon, an Ellicott City Republican expected to run for county executive next year. Council Chairman Guy Guzzone, a Democrat and Merdon's rival for the top job, represents North Laurel, where the project in question is located, but he wasn't invited, he said. Ehrlich said he didn't know why Guzzone got no invitation, though his office did the inviting.

Robey played his role with a smile, playfully hugging the big piece of cardboard representing the state funding.

"This is an important project," Robey said. The building will help U.S. 1 redevelop, while providing housing -- perhaps for workers at the Dreyer's Ice Cream factory which is expanding nearby, he said.

But while local officials look for ways to provide more housing for working families, federal officials are cutting 10 percent of Howard's Section 8 rent-subsidy money for low-income housing and are moving to sharply reduce the very federal Community Development Block Grant funding that the county is using to help buy the U.S. 1 land.

After the ceremony, Ehrlich took a philosophical view of federal cuts, though Maryland Housing and Community Development Secretary Victor L. Hoskins said at the Laurel ceremony that programs to revitalize older communities are "really one of the pillars of the [Ehrlich] administration."

As a former Maryland legislator and member of Congress, Ehrlich said, "I understand. I agree with the president. There has to be some brakes on domestic spending."

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