If last night's reception at the Howard County Council is any indication, County Executive Charles I. Ecker will have an easy time getting approval of his $358 million budget proposal for next year.

Ecker's plan to hold the line on property and income tax rates for the county was particularly popular among his fellow Republicans, who control the council, 3-2.

"I want to congratulate you for once again bringing forth a budget that holds the [local income] tax rate at 50 percent" of the state rate, said Councilman Darrel E. Drown, an Ellicott City Republican. "That's a job well done."

On Monday, Ecker released details of his budget proposal, which would govern spending on day-to-day county expenses for the 12 months starting July 1.

Ecker has proposed adding 22 police officers, 20 firefighters and 258 school employees while giving raises to nearly every other county employee.

He formally proposed the budget to the County Council last night, the first step in a series of meetings in which the council can review and change the budget before approving it by late May.

Democratic Councilman C. Vernon Gray of east Columbia needled Ecker for not reducing the tax rate -- as he suggested he would last year when he proposed the $125 annual trash fee that all homeowners now pay.

"When you proposed the trash tax, you said there'd be a decrease in the tax rate," Gray said. "We haven't seen that last year or this year."

Ecker said a tax cut would have made it impossible for Howard to pay for the state-mandated minimum increase in schools funding called "maintenance of effort."

"The only way we met it was putting in the trash fee," he said.

But neither Gray nor fellow Democrat Mary C. Lorsung of west Columbia had other specific criticisms of the proposed budget.

Both said they may find problems after reviewing it more carefully in the coming weeks.

Council Chairman Dennis R. Schrader, a North Laurel Republican, sounded a similar note of caution: "On the surface, it's a great budget. Obviously you have to wait for the public hearing."

West Friendship Councilman Charles C. Feaga, also a Republican, was pleased. "This budget gives us more hope than we've seen in past years."

In another development, county administrators proposed a simplified process for entering properties into the metropolitan district -- a necessary step for receiving county water and sewer service.

The change would allow some properties to enter the metropolitan district without the public hearings now required in all cases. The change could also keep citizens from having the power to appeal some metropolitan district decisions to referendum.

Water and sewer extensions can be politically sensitive because they allow developers to build far-denser projects than possible with well and septic systems.

Pub Date: 4/24/97

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