Howard council OK's budget

517 new jobs expected

May 24, 2007|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,sun reporter

Howard County will be able to hire 517 new government and school employees, and the fire property tax rate will increase by 1 cent, thanks to a $1.3 billion operating budget approved by the County Council yesterday. .

The general property tax rate won't change, but the owner of a house priced at the county median of $450,000 will pay $273 more in property taxes July 1, due mostly to rising assessments, budget officials said.

Greg Fox, the council's only Republican, was the only member to vote against the spending plan. The five-member council left County Executive Ken Ulman's first budget virtually intact, despite a 10.7 percent increase in spending.

Still, with the help of two Columbia Democrats, Fox was able to limit a proposed increase to the county's fire property tax to 1 cent per $100 of assessed value. The council cut enough money from a fire department contingency fund to eliminate an additional 2-cent increase in the rural areas that Ulman had wanted.

"I think we voted for a tax increase that fully funded everything in the [fire department] budget," said council Chairman Calvin Ball.

Howard County has a separate property tax dedicated to fire services, with the rate 2 cents lower in rural areas where public water and sewers don't reach. Ulman, who plans to begin burying 30,000-gallon water tanks in strategic rural locations to improve fire service, had wanted to equalize the rates.

Most of the new employees -- 341 -- will be for the county school system. There will also be 43 more fire jobs and 39 more police jobs. The budget funds a 5 percent pay increase for county teachers and police officers, and a 6 percent increase for firefighters. Ulman's environmental initiatives also survived, including a pilot recycling program using wheeled bins.

Ellicott City Democrat Courtney Watson failed to gain support for her bid to remove $5 million to help Howard Community College purchase Belmont, a historic 18th-century estate on 68 acres in Elkridge. Some residents and preservationists say they fear the college will overdevelop the secluded estate and conference center.

The council also approved a $354 million capital budget.

"Overall, I'm really pleased," Ulman said after the council budget voting was over.

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