Long-awaited libraries gain backing in budget


A crowd of Elkridge residents who lobbied County Executive Charles I. Ecker last night to put a branch library in their neighborhood will get their wish.

"I'm going to include money for the library" in Elkridge and east Columbia in the fiscal 1994 operating budget, Mr. Ecker said after a public hearing on spending requests from county departments.

Residents of Elkridge and east Columbia had feared they may have to wait yet another year for their branch libraries. The $294 million in operating funds requested by department heads exceeds projected revenue by $13 million and does not include salary increases.

Mr. Ecker said he plans to cut the spending requests rather than raise taxes. He would have to increase the property tax rate 21 cents to fund them uncut.

The current property tax is $2.59 per $100 of assessed value.

Still to be negotiated are raises for county workers and school system employees.

Mr. Ecker said that in addition to funding the library request, he plans to give the school system a $12 million to $12.5 million increase in its budget, grant a police department request for 40 new officers, and expand the county's trash recycling program.

"There's not much left after that," he said.

Mr. Ecker plans to winnow the requests in the next few days and submit a proposed operating budget to the County Council in mid-April.

The library requested $6.7 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1 -- $1.3 million more than this year. The additional money will be used to open a $5.1 million branch library in Elkridge and an $8.1 million branch library in east Columbia.

The 15,000 square-foot Elkridge branch is scheduled to open in July. It will have a meeting room, house a 2,100 square-foot nutrition center, and provide parking for approximately 125 cars.

The 46,000 square-foot east Columbia branch, in the Stevens Forest neighborhood in the village of Owen Brown, will house a 3,400 square-foot multi-purpose center and provide parking for 400 cars. Three combination soccer and football fields will be built on the 25-acre site.

"We want the Elkridge branch opened by July 1993," Ellen V. Schultz told Mr. Ecker last night. She spoke on behalf of about 35 residents who stood in a show of support for her testimony. "It will be a gross injustice if Elkridge is not opened sometime in July," Ms. Schultz said.

Mr. Ecker told residents he appreciated their patience. "One lady was telling me the other day that her daughter was in third grade when the library was proposed and now her daughter's in college," he said.

The other issue at last night's brief budget hearing was support for Howard Community College.

Steve Sachs, speaking for the board of trustees, asked Mr. Ecker to fund the $8.4 million operating budget the college is asking for fiscal 1994. The college has had a 12 percent increase in enrollment in the past two years and needs $1.3 million more than the current budget to handle the growth, Mr. Sachs said.

He said the enrollment increase is far greater than for community colleges in the surrounding counties and has led to a corresponding need for more full-time faculty. Half the faculty is full-time now, he said, and the college would like to increase that to 60 percent.

C. B. Lovell, an associate professor of English at the college, said the $415 per credit hour the college pays part-time faculty is less than the surrounding area.

Unless the budget is fully funded, the college may lose some of its best part-timers, she said.

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