Council OKs the budget unanimously


"Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes," was the uninterrupted refrain 23 times yesterday as the five members of the Howard County Council quickly approved without comment a series of bills providing an $811 million budget for the year starting July 1.

C. Vernon Gray, of east Columbia and the council's longest serving Democrat, said the routine, peaceful voting session was a tribute to County Executive James N. Robey, who submitted a budget that inspired the harmony.

"In my 19 years, this has been by far the best," he said about the council's annual budget session.

This year, the council's two Republicans agreed.

"There were some pretty rough comments up here last year. I want to thank the county executive. I appreciate your work," said Councilman Allan H. Kittleman, a western county Republican who last year said he needed a tape recorder when he talks to Robey, a Democrat.

"The county executive's leadership won the support of the council," Ellicott City Republican Christopher J. Merdon said.

Last year, after Kittleman and Merdon said on cable television that they couldn't trust him, Robey said "I've been in fights in bars before as a cop where I didn't get beat up as bad as today."

But later, Robey was generous, too, when asked about the tributes.

"What a difference a year makes," he said, adding that the cooperative approach and the compliments "feel fine. Last year happened. I wish it hadn't. It's going to always be my goal to achieve that level of cooperation. I don't enjoy it - the finger pointing and name calling."

None of that was evident in the council's Ellicott City chambers yesterday, though Mary C. Lorsung, a west Columbia Democrat, didn't let the day go by without making her points.

She repeated, for example, her earlier warning that approval of a planned, but unfunded new western elementary school is contingent for her on two things. The school board must produce reliable, accurate enrollment projections, and do countywide redistricting of elementary and middle school pupils to fill all available seats.

The budget increases education spending more than 11 percent, but otherwise is a mainly status quo plan. Money is available for five new firefighters and 10 new police officers halfway through the year.

To pay for that, and for built-in inflation and salary increases, the county's fire tax will go up 1.75 cents per $100 of assessed value. Various development fees are also going up July 1.

An average county homeowner with a house worth $150,000 would pay about $79.25 more in taxes, due mainly to increasing property assessments. But the council ignored the only resident who spoke at Monday night's public hearing on the budget legislation.

David Margolis of Scaggsville urged the council to reject all 23 of the Robey administration's budget bills. "You're promising too much to too many people. Have you ever said 'no' to a constituent? Government, he said, should guarantee "life, liberty and property and little else."

To that end, Margolis wants no public schools or recreation programs, and taxes cut drastically. Schools could operate privately, he said, rejecting modern government's role to a degree far beyond the most conservative Republican.

"I can take care of myself very well, thank you," he said.

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