Christopher Merdon

Chris Merdon, the Republican candidate for Howard County Executive in the 2006 election, will leave the Howard County Revenue Authority Board of Directors because "there are no projects, and it requires you to attend a monthly meeting where you don't really do anything." (Staff photo by Ed Bunyan / October 13, 2006)

Michael Jack, chairman of the Howard County Revenue Authority Board of Directors, joined a conference call and called the board's monthly meeting to order Aug. 18 at 4:04 p.m.

After board members approved the July meeting minutes and were briefed on the status of the authority's annual financial report, the meeting was adjourned.

At 4:06 p.m.

"That's record time," Stanley Milesky, the county's acting director of finance and administrative liaison to the authority, said as the call ended.

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"That was the fastest one yet," record keeper Eileen Weber agreed.

Though the two-minute conference call may have been the shortest authority meeting to date, it's not uncommon for the group to be finished discussing its business within a matter of minutes.

The average revenue authority meeting — it is held every month as required by state law — lasts 11 minutes, according to meeting minutes from January through August.

The authority, which was formed in 2006 to finance or operate cultural, recreational and parking facilities (excluding golf courses), is not working on any projects. Though it's affiliated with the county, the authority is an independent agency that can acquire financing for projects by taking out bonds, which it would pay off by charging user fees for the amenity the project provides.

In the past four years the authority has been meeting, it has studied only two revenue-generating ideas — a parking garage for historic Ellicott City and a county swim center. In both cases, the studies found that the projects would not produce enough revenue to pay for the debt the authority would incur to finance them.

"A revenue authority is simply created and empowered to take on projects that generate enough revenue to offset the debt for those projects," County Executive Ken Ulman said. "We just haven't seen projects that made economic sense."

Roy Meyers, a University of Maryland Baltimore County public policy professor who specializes in finance, said the authority's inactivity "might indicate that they're making sensible decisions," but also affirms there is no great need for the authority right now.

'You don't really do anything'

The inactivity has been enough to make at least one member decide to resign from the authority's Board of Directors.

"My term is expired, and I've asked to be replaced," said Chris Merdon, a former County Council member and Ulman's opponent in the 2006 county executive race, "because there are no projects, and it requires you to attend a monthly meeting where you don't really do anything."

At the authority's June meeting, Merdon suggested the monthly meeting requirement be changed to as needed. The authority is regulated by state law, so the meeting requirement would have to be changed by the General Assembly.

"All of our calls are 10 minutes long; they pretty much are the same thing," he said. "Without a project, there really doesn't seem to be a need to meet."

Because the authority's meetings do not require a major commitment of time or resources, Ulman said he does not believe the requirement needs to be changed.

"To have a brief meeting by conference call, I don't see anything wrong with that," he said.

But Ulman said he understands why some members have indicated that they do not wish to serve much longer.

"It's no fun to be on a board that doesn't have much to do," he said.