Representatives of Howard County's agricultural and arts communities and an African-American historical society supported bills last night requesting public funds for construction projects they said would benefit not only their organizations but many county residents.
But the president of the Howard County Taxpayers Association objected to the three proposed funding bills at the public hearing sponsored by the county's General Assembly delegation, saying the state and the county "should be reducing debt, not increasing it."
The funding requests are part of a package of 15 proposed bills the delegation considered last night for introduction when the legislative session begins in January.
One bill would give a mobile home owners cooperative the first opportunity to purchase land on which their homes sit before the park owner sells to an outside party. The bill was drafted at the initiative of County Councilman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, and the County Mobile Homeowners Association.
About 20 mobile home owners attended the hearing in support (( of that bill.
Several residents also supported a bill that would cut down on the amount of time prospective jurors potentially would have to serve. But County State's Attorney William R. Hymes opposed the measure, saying the current system works well and the proposed change could increase administrative costs.
In the funding bills, the county is asking the state for $1 million to build an agricultural center in West Friendship to be matched evenly by county money; $300,000 to create a performing arts center at the Wilde Lake High School auditorium, to be matched with $300,000 from the county and $400,000 from the Howard County Arts Council; and $220,000 to restore and preserve the Ellicott City Colored School, to be matched by the Central Maryland Chapter of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society Inc.
"Why should residents pay for additional debt service when economic conditions are not getting better?" asked Patrick Dornan, president of the taxpayers group and an Ellicott City resident. "These are luxuries. If we are to increase debt, it should be for necessities."
But supporters of the proposals said the projects are not frills.
"I don't consider it a luxury," said Columbia resident Pearl Atkinson-Stewart of the Ellicott City Colored School renovation project. "It would be an educational benefit to everyone in Howard County."
Other supporters of that project emphasized the building's value as a historic landmark, educational resource and symbol of the ++ county's cultural diversity.
Supporters of the agricultural center stressed the need to combine under one roof federal, state and county agencies providing agricultural-related services to county residents, such as soil conservation, cooperative extension, 4-H and farmland preservation.
"It's a tremendous advantage to the agricultural producer to have all the agencies [under one roof] so they can work together," said J. G. Warfield, a county farmer, adding that the agencies serve a much broader segment of the population.
But Ellicott City resident Richard Buczek said it would cost less over the years to combine agencies by renting available space rather than borrowing money and maintaining a new building.
The performing arts center could be created in conjunction with the renovation project scheduled for Wilde Lake High, and would serve the county's arts and business communities, proponents said.
The delegation plans to have a working and voting session on the bills at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 17 in the Ellicott Room of the George Howard Building.