Police housing measure gets OK

Council bill would let officers live free or at lower rates in units


Attempting to create a way for Howard County police officers to afford to live in the high-priced county -- as well as provide added security in higher-crime areas -- the County Council has approved legislation that would allow police officers to live for free or at a reduced rate in some apartments.

The legislation, which the council approved Monday night, would authorize the Police Department to create the housing program and establish criteria.

The level of security that the officers would provide, such as giving the apartment managers their cellular telephone numbers or performing regular security audits, would be determined, said County Councilman Ken Ulman, who sponsored the legislation.

Ulman, a west Columbia Democrat, said in an interview that about 10 officers have expressed interest in the program, and that apartment owners would be surveyed to create a list of landlords who would participate in the program.

Ulman said he and Howard County Police Chief Wayne Livesay have discussed the desire for the housing to be in areas "that have community-policing challenges."

"I thought this was an innovative way -- that will not cost the taxpayers -- to get police officers to live in the county," Ulman said.

The program will be subjected to an ethics review, Ulman said, because officers cannot receive free benefits.

But the councilman said he does not believe the program would create an ethics problem because "I don't believe that is taking something for free, because they're providing a level of security by living there."

Councilman Charles C. Feaga was the only councilman to vote against the legislation, and he said in an interview that the bill is "absolutely the wrong way to go."

Feaga said he believes that the program would lead to "more bureaucracy than we need," and he worries it might create jealousy among the officers over who gets their rent subsidized by the landlords.

"I think that if people are having that much trouble in those areas, they should hire their own security," said Feaga, a western county Republican.

Also on Monday night, the council tabled a smoking ban bill, introduced by Council Chairman Christopher J. Merdon, that aimed to ban smoking in public places by July 2008.

"It's purely political, and there's nothing really we can do about that," Feaga said of the Republican-sponsored bill being tabled.

The Democrats also renewed their efforts to pass a smoking ban bill, introducing a measure by County Executive James N. Robey and Ulman, that proposes to enforce the ban starting June 1 next year.

After an unsuccessful bill by Robey and Ulman last fall, Ulman said he is confident the current bill will be approved.

"I am confident that we have three votes," Ulman said, referring to Democratic Councilmen Guy Guzzone and Calvin Ball. "Next month, Howard County will have a smoke-free-air bill."

The council also tabled two affordable-housing bills -- one that includes references to "middle-income housing units" for families earning up to $90,000 a year and another that would authorize additional moderate-income housing units in the eastern part of the county.

There is an apparent consensus on dropping the "middle income" from the primary housing bill.

"That simply isn't the type of person that we should be helping in Howard County," Feaga said.


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