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Salad days for Robey; Howard's bounty: The rising economic tide lifts virtually all capital projects.


AN OCCASIONAL jokester wonders if anyone has had a sighting of Howard County Executive James N. Robey.

Not to worry. Mr. Robey is alive and well and riding the nearly perfect economic wave.

He can most often be seen, agreeably enough for any public figure, when he has good news.

With plenty of money on hand and the ability to keep borrowing costs within bounds, Mr. Robey has unveiled a capital budget that is twice as big at $200 million as last year's, his first building plan.

Almost everyone got almost everything on their wish lists. "This is good planning," said one county official -- mercifully free of the surprises that a less friendly economy can bring.

It's also a good economy, of course. Mr. Robey's $27 million surplus is counted on to keep the county's cost of borrowing under $50 million. Some $20 million more is anticipated from the state in the form of school construction aid. Water and sewer projects on the list will be paid for by bonds backed by annual utility fees.

Mr. Robey said he hopes to balance what he called opposing priorities: Keep the debt manageable while "maintaining the quality of our infrastructure."

He was able to provide all but $4 million of the $58 million in capital funds requested by the school system. He has set aside $21 million for a new high school in Fulton. Additions to Glenelg and Centennial high schools are covered, too.

And he can go ahead with a major upgrade of the county's wastewater treatment plant.

These salad days also allowed him to provide money for a new county-owned golf course -- but he is holding that project in abeyance while he monitors the willingness of golf course operators to provide lower greens fees to county residents.

Whether that approach would be a practical or sufficient one remains to be seen.

All in all, though, Mr. Robey's score on capital projects seems much better than par.

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