Use revenue surplus to renovate library


LORD KNOWS, I'm not the handiest person to have around. Typically if you see me with a hammer or screwdriver, I've either been forced to respond to some household emergency or am performing some mundane task that even a lummox like me couldn't botch.

I've tried to be handy ever since my wife and I first departed the ranks of apartment dwellers to become homeowners 18 years ago. But it didn't take long to figure out that any savings expected by "doing it myself" was offset by the cost of having to do it two or three times to get it right.

Frustration canceled any satisfaction at successfully replacing the ball-cock mechanism in the toilet or retiling the kitchen floor. Still, every once in a while the spirit gets me and I don my Mr. Fix-it persona. Repairmen, who needs expensive repairmen?

To-do list

I got into such a mood just before my recent vacation and hinted that I might paint the bathroom adjoining our bedroom. A cautiously optimistic OK was the response, which was understandable. The chore was first put on my to-do list three years ago when we moved into the house.

No one was as surprised as I when I actually began removing wallpaper and old caulk in the bathroom during my first weekend off.

I was following the advice of a friend who suggested that if I didn't get such a major task out of the way early in my vacation I wouldn't be motivated to do it when my time off was almost over.

Once I bared the walls, there was no turning back. I brought back color samples from the hardware store. A hue was chosen and purchased. I got out my brushes, put on old clothes whose appearance might be improved by paint splotches and went to work.

So pleased was I with the result that I decided to paint the other bathroom upstairs, too. It wouldn't require caulking, spackling or removing wallpaper, so I surmised it wouldn't take as long to finish the job. I was wrong.

In my haste to get done, I took a short step that simply lengthened the process.

Good house painters, professional and otherwise, know the importance of masking tape. It reduces your having to paint over brush-stroke mistakes. My taping of the ceiling was so shoddy that I left smears of the wrong color on it. I tried to paint over the spots, but the result was so ugly that I had to coat the whole ceiling.

Again, I had managed to make a chore more time-consuming and expensive than it should have been. But there was no frustration this time. The bathrooms look great. And I know what I spent on paint, tape and one new brush was far less than the cost of hiring a painter.

I wondered to myself why I had put off painting the bathrooms for so long. It needed to be done. I had the means to do it. But I kept putting it off. It's human nature to an extent. We don't always do what we should when we should.

That's something to keep in mind as Howard County officials decide what they want to do with the $11.8 million budget surplus they recently announced. There are some things that need to be done that the county now has the means to do, and it should.

Near the top of the list ought to be renovation of the central library. The county has been talking about repairs to the main library since 1992, when $3 million was included in long-range spending plans. But the money has not been part of the annual capital improvements appropriations.

As a result, the 18-year-old building is in disrepair. Dampness from a roof that no longer leaks still spawns mildew. Window sills leak. Rooms that were built to accommodate audio-visual equipment nearly two decades ago need to be updated.

County Executive James N. Robey has assured western Howard residents that higher than predicted construction costs won't delay or decrease the size of a new library planned for Cooksville. Similar assurances need to be made to renovate the central library now.

Delaying the renovation thus far has pushed the cost of repairs well beyond the $3 million that was estimated seven years ago. Putting off the work even longer will only make it more expensive to put the library in tip-top shape.

Capital gains

It has become routine for the county to receive extra income-tax revenue as a result of the stock market investments and lower interest rates that benefit Howard residents. But the booming economy could sour. In fact, a 23 percent decline in capital gains this year is being predicted.

The volatility of the stock market is one reason the county is required by law to use revenue surpluses only for one-time expenditures. It anticipated a $16 million surplus for fiscal 1998, but is going to realize nearly $12 million more than that.

Nearly every county department has a wish list for a portion of the revenue surplus. The library ought to be uppermost in the minds of county officials as they decide which projects should have priority. A county that is known for its commitment to education should have a central library that exemplifies that status.

Harold Jackson writes editorials about Howard County for The Sun.

Pub Date: 1/17/99

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