Residents make their points about capital budget

Public meetings and the Internet offer citizens a forum to speak about the needs of the county

March 12, 2006|By SANDY ALEXANDER | SANDY ALEXANDER,SUN REPORTER

As Howard County Executive James N. Robey attempts this month to balance more than $1 billion in capital and operating funding requests for the next fiscal year, citizens are using public meetings and Internet forms to tell the stories behind a few of the numbers.

Educating community college students, repairing crumbling school buildings, preserving parkland and protecting a quiet North Laurel community from traffic were issues close to the hearts of 50 speakers and dozens more supporters at a citizens budget meeting last week.

Seven smartly dressed, well-prepared young people made the biggest impression Thursday night at the George Howard Building in Ellicott City, asking Robey to fund their after-school program at the east Columbia library.

Library Director Valerie Gross told The Sun last week that Teen Time's grants from the Horizon Foundation and the Friends of the Howard County Library are set to expire in June, and the program needs a new supporter for its $33,500 cost.

The young people spoke about the program's combination of homework help, speakers, field trips and caring leaders.

Kacie Bourgault, an eighth-grader at Cradlerock School in Columbia, said her grades have improved since joining Teen Time, and "I have done a lot of growing up there, too."

She told the county executive that Teen Time staff members are like "a second mom and another older brother." And, she said: "If anything goes wrong, I know Teen Time has my back. ... I love the program and the people too much to let it slide through my fingers without a fight."

Children in need also were the subject of pleas by several parents from Worthington Elementary School in Ellicott City, where, Robey was told, water drips into strategically placed garbage pails during rainstorms and some children wear coats in freezing classrooms while others wear short sleeves to battle stifling heat.

Ginger Segala, a member of the Worthington PTA, said that one day water seeped into the fire alarm, setting off the sirens and forcing the children outside in a downpour.

She asked Robey to "please fund the renovation as originally planned."

The largest contingents were the ones for and against a request by Howard Community College for $2 million toward purchasing the Belmont Conference Center in Elkridge and $1 million for renovations there. The college manages the center, which is owned by the Howard Community College Educational Foundation.

Students, staff members and community members - including the owners of Tersiguel's Restaurant and the Crab Shanty Restaurant in Ellicott City - spoke of the value of Belmont to the hospitality management program. That program has started holding classes at the site and seeks to benefit from the addition of more classroom space, an industrial kitchen and other renovations in the school's master plan.

Taking classes at Belmont "is giving us the chance to work with leading professionals in the industry," said Kimberly Droney, vice president of the college's hospitality club.

Meg Schumacher of Elkridge said: "It's a good program. [Belmont] is absolutely the wrong place for it."

Schumacher, joined by other opponents from Elkridge and preservation groups, asked Robey not to spend taxpayer dollars for a plan that adds buildings and an access road to Belmont.

The 18th-century manor house is in a secluded setting surrounded by parkland and is protected by historic easements.

Residents can send their comments to the county executive through the county's Web site at www.co.ho.md.us.

Robey is expected to complete a capital budget by the first of April.

sandy.alexander@baltsun.com

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