County Council studies 15-year renewal for ComCast Cable TV rate increase 'normal,' officials say


The Howard County Council moved closer last night to renewing ComCast Corp.'s cable television contract for another 15 years even as the company is planning to increase monthly bills by about 60 cents over the next several months.

But county and company officials said the planned increase resulted from inflation and rising operating costs.

"That's a normal increase," said Council Vice Chairman Darrel E. Drown.

In other council business last night, County Executive Charles I. Ecker said he will push for a state-wide law allowing police departments to place cameras on traffic lights.

"Red light running is terrible," Mr. Ecker said.

The car owner would be fined, although the offense would not affect his or her insurance rates, Mr. Ecker said.

Regarding the cable television franchise, the county has been negotiating with ComCast for about two years. Under the terms of the proposed contract renewal, ComCast would be allowed to operate in Howard County for 15 more years.

The company has promised to install fiber optic cables and boost its channels to 84.

Jim O'Connor, Howard County cable administrator, said the proposed agreement would not preclude another cable company from moving into the county to compete against ComCast, which serves about 85 percent of the county.

For those with "expanded basic" service, monthly cable bills will increase 27 to 29 cents next month, Mr. O'Connor said, and approximately 30 cents in February. The current monthly bill is $22.47, Mr. O'Connor said.

Rates last were increased in June.

The proposed operating agreement -- which is not directly tied to the rate increase -- must be approved by the County Council and Mr. Ecker.

In other business, the county is proposing tax breaks for people who renovate historic properties.

The property owners could deduct up to 10 percent of what they paid for labor or materials from their property taxes. The plan was discussed briefly last night and awaits council approval.

Preservationists have said that of about 630 historic sites in the county, about 100 sites could be lost if they are not given protection.

Also last night, Mr. Ecker said he might back off plans to change the way he can cut the education budget. Earlier this month, he proposed a change in the law that would bar the council from restoring any cuts he made in the education budget.

But now Mr. Ecker said he may concentrate on supporting any state-wide education accountability measures that he said would more effective.

Such measures being considered by the Maryland Association of Counties would:

* Allow counties to perform management or performance audits of local school systems.

* Redefine categories of eduction budgets to make them more specific, thus allowing county executives to make more specific cuts.

* Revise state "maintenance of effort" laws to make sure that any state-ordered increases in funding go to classroom and not administrative costs.

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