Week In Review

October 16, 2005

County reports $20.4 million surplus

Howard County officials last week reported a surplus of $20.4 million for the fiscal year that ended June 30, compared with less than $1 million two years ago.

About two-thirds of the surplus, $14.4 million, is available under county law for emergencies or one-time expenditures, and $6 million has been set aside to bolster the government's Rainy Day Fund, a hedge against bad times. The amount available for spending is 2.5 percent of the total budget.

Sharon Greisz, county finance director, said the big increase results from the improving economy and reflects "fiscally prudent" budgeting based on two previous years of recessionary shortfalls.

County Executive James N. Robey said the $14.4 million will probably be rolled over into next year's budget. "I'm quite pleased, because it was very difficult last year," he said. "It will be used."

He would not make a commitment to cutting taxes, vowing to carefully review county finances at budget time to determine whether reductions are possible.

Friday, Page 1G

2 kayakers charged after water rescue

The state has charged two Howard County teenagers with failing to wear safety gear after their kayaks capsized and their younger friends' raft deflated in a dangerous section of rapids on the Patapsco River in downtown Ellicott City last weekend.

Onlookers on the Main Street bridge watched the six teenagers, who were not wearing helmets or life jackets, cling to rocks as rescue crews from Howard and Baltimore counties pulled them out of the water about 5 p.m. Saturday.

The Maryland Natural Resources Police, which filed the charges, did not release the names of the four Ellicott City juveniles who were riding in the raft. Gary Lee Lehnhoff III of Ellicott City and Brendan Michael Flannery of Laurel, both 19, were in kayaks.

The juveniles were issued warnings because safety requirements for rafts are less strict than those for kayaks. All six refused medical treatment.

The charges against Lehnhoff and Flannery are misdemeanors. They could plead guilty and pay an $85 fine or take the matter to court. If a judge finds them guilty, the maximum penalty is a $500 fine.

Wednesday, Page 3B

Rescue equipment ordered for county

Howard County has ordered millions of dollars of fire and public safety equipment that leaders say will help address safety and communication concerns in the event of a disaster.

Among the items being purchase are a new mobile communications hub that will enable workers to view live footage from the department's helicopter, and which will be wired with the county's first mobile network that routes radio and cell phone communications over the Internet.

Federal homeland security money will pay for the $750,000 communications vehicle, and the county will pay for maintenance.

Homeland security dollars will pay for a $300,000 decontamination unit identical to one on which Howard County responders worked while in Louisiana and which cleaned off people, equipment and rescuers after they emerged from polluted floodwaters.

The Clarksville Volunteer Fire Department's heavy rescue truck contains a pump that can suck water out of hard-to-access sources, such as backyard pools and small lakes and streams, to fight fires. A crane mounted behind the cab of the $900,000 truck submerges the pump's rectangular, metal case.

Manufacturers have delivered two of the six trucks, a $765,000 fire engine with a 100-foot ladder and the heavy rescue truck. Volunteer and career firefighters are learning how to use them.

Wednesday, Page 1G

Tot lot may get fence for safety

Responding to the drowning death of a toddler last month, the Columbia Association will hire a consultant to determine whether a fence at the Lake Elkhorn tot lot is the best solution to prevent another tragedy.

CA board members Monday authorized up to $20,000 to hire the consultant to design a safety plan and up to $30,000 to build a fence if the consultant finds that is the best solution.

The board also asked the CA staff to develop a safety plan for the 168 other tot lots in Columbia.

Alex Ferrera, a 23-month-old who lived in Laurel, drowned Sept. 2 at the Lake Elkhorn tot lot, a playground bordered by Cradlerock Way, lines of trees and a slope down to a wooden dock.

Wednesday, Page 1G

CA board decides to meet once a year

Instead of disbanding - as the 10-member group had voted to do, contingent on the Columbia Association board's approving changes in the association charter - the group has decided that it will meet only once a year.

The council's 9-1 decision Monday means the council will act as the Columbia Association board most of the time and gather as the council every May.

For more than three decades, 10 people have acted as the council and as the board for the CA, a nonprofit homeowners association.

Wednesday, Page 1G

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