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Report urges aid for elderly; Numbers will require a full department, administration told; 'Demographic bulldozer'; New booking facility, 911 emergency center are also proposed


Facing predictions of sharply higher numbers of senior citizens as its population ages, Howard County should create a full-fledged Department of Aging and involve every agency in meeting the needs of the elderly, according to a report to the new administration.

The 29-page transition team report, ordered by County Executive James N. Robey before he took office in December, is a sparsely worded, often technical look at every county government agency.

Its recommendations include a new 911 emergency center, consideration of an increase in fire taxes, a new central booking facility at the county detention center and remedies for low morale among county employees who complain of too little contact with top bosses.

"There's nothing earthshaking," Robey said of the report, but he vowed to "absolutely give serious consideration to everything they told me."

The transition team leader -- William E. "Ned" Eakle, 72, a former county executive and administrative officer -- said the number of senior citizens predicted after the turn of the century impressed the 21 team members.

"Something's coming, and as usual, we don't know exactly what it's going to be," Eakle, now a retiree, said of estimates that Howard's senior population is the fastest-growing in Maryland.

Predictions are for Howard's population of 24,000 people over age 60 to triple by 2020.

"We're facing a demographic bulldozer. That's how I feel about it," said Phyllis Madachy, administrator of the county's Office on Aging, one of five agencies in the Department of Citizen Services.

"We looked them in the eye, and they are us," joked Madachy. She had not seen the report, but strongly agreed that every county agency should prepare for the new demographics.

The well-to-do county is attracting new commercial housing for seniors, but much more is needed for all income ranges, she said.

County-sponsored senior services are also expanding, with senior centers planned for Ellicott City and Glenwood in the western county. Centers have opened in Savage and Elkridge in the past three years, bringing to 10 the number in operation countywide.

"What the community had before was a network of nutrition sites that operated in loaned facilities," Madachy said, noting the progress in meeting the needs of the elderly.

In addition to the centers, there is a new "Saturday Plus" program in the east Columbia library for families caring for seniors full time who need a five-hour break to do chores or relax.

"I'm delighted [with the report] as long as the needs of older people are focused on. That's all I want," Madachy said.

Robey said the recommendations for a separate department and for other agencies to plan to meet needs of the elderly "makes some sense," but needs more review.

Eakle's committee said an increase in the county's fire tax -- now 24 cents per $100 of assessed value -- and the rate's statutory limit of 25 cents may be needed because of a predicted shortfall of $2 million to $3 million next year for fire services. Increasing the tax by 1 penny to the maximum rate would produce less than half the needed revenue.

The report also strongly recommended a new 911 center -- which Robey has said he would like but that the county may not be able to afford.

Existing center

The existing center, workplace for about 10 people per shift, is housed in the basement of the George Howard Building in Ellicott City -- in quarters originally built as a bomb shelter in the mid-1970s, said John Hampton, technical services supervisor there.

"Those folks are working in a cave- or a dungeon-like atmosphere," Robey said. He has asked for an estimate of how much it would cost to move the center. The county is planning a $20 million upgrade of its emergency radio system, and Hampton said more room and brighter quarters would be welcome.

For the police, the report urges creation of a central booking facility at the county detention center in Jessup -- saving time for officers now transporting prisoners from the Southern District police station in Fulton to see court commissioners in Ellicott City and then to the jail.

"It's crazy," Sgt. Morris Carroll, the county police spokesman, said of the current system.

Incentives suggested

The report also suggests incentives -- financial and educational -- to lure officers from patrol into specialized assignments; recruitment officers trained "in the value of promoting diversity" in the department; and renewed emphasis on community policing.

More county attention to methane, radon and carbon monoxide gases sometimes found on building sites or under newly built homes was also suggested. In Elkridge last fall, some buyers of new homes were forced to move when methane began seeping into their homes from material buried years ago on the site.

Eakle said county employees seem to be suffering from low morale, brought on partly by the lack of yearly pay increases -- but more by a feeling that their department heads don't talk to them or consider their opinions.

"You've got to make people appreciated," Eakle said.

Pub Date: 2/18/99

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