With Howard County budget cuts looming, details scarce

Kittleman hasn't revealed where possible budget cuts will be made to deal with shortfall

Tough budget choices lie ahead for Howard – that's what County Executive Allan Kittleman has said in the month since he announced that the county faces a budget shortfall of $14 million this fiscal year.

Where the cuts will be made remains a question mark. Kittleman's office recently confirmed he has received reports from the county's department heads with recommendations on how to trim their spending by 5 percent over the remainder of fiscal year 2015.

But the administration is keeping its options close to the vest for now. A request from the Howard County Times to see the reports, or a summary of the recommendations made, was denied.

County press secretary Andy Barth called the request "premature."

"The responses have just come in," he said. "There's a time for everything... [Kittleman is] reading and analyzing and considering, but it's not anything that's at a time to share yet."

Barth said there isn't a timeline for when spending decisions might be released.

The fiscal year is a little more than halfway through: just under 24 weeks remain until June 30.

Grassroots PAC responds to campaign finance complaint

A local political action committee has been accused of underreporting the money it collected and spent during the 2014 campaign season, according to a complaint filed with the Maryland State Board of Elections.

The People's Voice, LLC, was formed about a month before Election Day this fall with the goal, according to its mission statement, of "inform[ing] citizens of what is happening in their communities, promot[ing] open discussion on how to address community concerns and bring[ing] more citizen input into county plans and projects that affect our quality of life."

The PAC's founder is Lisa Markovitz, a former County Council candidate in District 1 and community activist who has fought against new development at the Normandy Shopping Center as well as zoning changes brought by the 2013 comprehensive zoning process.

In a post-election campaign finance filing, The People's Voice submitted an affidavit of limited contributions and expenses, a document that states that a PAC does not intend to raise or spend more than $1,000 over a given period.

But in an email to the state Board of Elections, Bill Woodcock, a Howard resident and local blogger, said he suspects the group might have spent more.

Woodcock pointed to the group's "ethics ballots," purple-and-white sheets printed with candidate recommendations that volunteers passed out at the polls on Election Day.

"I find it hard to believe that the cost of producing these ballots was less than $1,000," he wrote. Reached by phone Tuesday, he added that "in-kind donations count too."

"It's not like I want some big investigation, like I want the People's Voice PAC to be shut down or people to face any sanctions or anything like that. I don't want that. My only thought is that if they're going to be a government watchdog then they need to start by watching themselves," he said.

Woodcock is not the only Howard blogger to raise concerns – Tom Coale, who comments on local affairs on his blog, HoCo Rising, wrote in December that he had "concerns about who is funding this PAC."

Markovitz called the complaint "baseless.

"I think some people maybe don't understand how much things cost or how to do things frugally," she said.

In a statement responding to the complaint on the PAC's website, peoplesvoicellc.org, Markovitz added that "[The People's Voice] has followed all finance reporting laws." She said she anticipated the group would submit a detailed filing on Jan. 21, when annual finance reports are due for PACs.

Markovitz added that she preferred to focus on the group's success: "[The People's Voice is] growing and growing because people really like what we've created; because it's kind of a one-stop shop for information," she said. "I'm really happy at how successful we've become in just a matter of months."

Jared DeMarinis, director of the candidacy and campaign finance division of the state Board of Elections, said he was looking into the complaint and did not have a timeline for when a decision would be released.

Weinstein meetings correction

Newly elected District 1 councilman Jon Weinstein's first citizen workshop will take place at Elkridge Landing Middle School, not Elkridge Landing Elementary School, as earlier reported.

The error was based on a typo in the original press release announcing the workshops, scheduled to take place Jan. 28 (in the cafeteria of Elkridge Landing Middle School) and Feb. 5 (in the Oella Room at the Roger Carter Center).

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