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An Umbrella for Rainy Days HOWARD COUNTY


Howard County government has had its share of "rainy days." When the books were closed at the end of fiscal year 1991, the county was $3 million in the hole, then suffered an additional $750,000 cut from the state.

Last year, the state took an ax to $10 million in local aid that had been promised to the county.

If that were not enough, dark financial clouds continue to roll over Howard. So far this year, the state has cut around $7 million in expected assistance; further cuts are likely.

That is why it is important that Howard County establish a rainy-day account. Two charter amendments on Tuesday's ballot would accomplish this. They should be approved.

County Executive Charles I. Ecker, who is backing the amendments, wanted to create such a fund two years ago but was thwarted by the County Council.

"They said, 'It's raining now,' " Mr. Ecker recalled. "And I said, 'Hey, you better hope it's not just the eye of a hurricane.' " His comments proved all too accurate.

One of Mr. Ecker's proposed charter amendments, Question A, would allow Howard County to build up a surplus equal to 7 percent of the previous year's county budget.

If such a rainy-day fund had been established two years ago, as Mr. Ecker wanted, the current surplus would total $17.5 million. Such a fund would surely provide a cushion as the state continues to experience financial problems and reduces local aid.

A companion amendment on the ballot next week, Question B, would specify how county officials can spend any surplus they accumulate after the rainy-day fund reaches its 7-percent limit.

If that amendment is approved, such a surplus could only be used to pay for capital improvements or one-time projects, or to reduce the county's debt.

As a former budget expert for the county school system, Mr. Ecker has brought a number of sound policies to county government financing.

His latest effort in the form of charter amendments is prudent and, given recent fiscal history, a necessity.

We urge voters to mark their ballots FOR both Question A and Question B next Tuesday.

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