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The cost of catching up to provide better schools, roads and services [Editorial]

Howard County Times

In the introduction to his 800-page Howard County capital budget proposal for major construction projects, County Executive Allan Kittleman cites "an obligation to support our infrastructure needs, of which there are many, that simply cannot be delayed."

Kittleman then advances the case for $374.3 million in projects – a list that runs the gamut from new and renovated schools, road building and repaving, bridges, parks and a modern police and fire radio system. That's almost $60 million more than the request for this fiscal year.

It's a staggering number but one that reflects the need to, as the report notes, hit the fast-forward button on projects that have been delayed or neglected for too long, such as a 10-year backlog on road resurfacing work.

One major project – replacing the county's antiquated Ellicott City courthouse – would require using $105 million of $201.3 million designated in general obligation bonds, loans that are repaid by taxpayers over decades. School projects have $59.1 million set aside, which would use $35 million in bond money and $15 million in state funds.

Another Kittleman vision moves toward a Howard County Community Resources Campus, where several citizen-services agencies such as housing and human rights would be consolidated to presumably improve efficiency and delivery of assistance. A third pet project, a county business innovation center at the Gateway Business Park, also makes the county executive's list.

As anyone who has to manage a growing family's budget knows, borrowing money is a necessity for big-ticket items that can't wait, like replacing a courthouse or building a fire station or school to keep pace with population increases.

And although a county spending advisory group earlier this month urged further restraint in borrowing, Kittleman's spending proposal is not out of line and won't saddle future generations with crushing debt. The county executive has shown a measured approach to balancing needs with costs.

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