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Budget decision on parks explainedIn response to...

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Budget decision on parks explained

In response to Lowell Sunderland's column in the April 28 Sun, "Shifting parks funds not good government," let me put the budget decision he addresses in proper perspective.

As everyone knows, including Mr. Sunderland, Howard County is facing a very difficult budget year as are all of our neighboring jurisdictions and, indeed, the State of Maryland as a whole. As we put our budget together, my guiding principle was to preserve the gains that we had made over the past three years in funding education, public safety, roads and bridges infrastructures, libraries and, yes, recreation and parks. At the same time, I made it clear that all service areas would have to make some sacrifices. No one area received all that was requested, requiring all to pull their belts tighter in order to maintain the current levels of service that our citizens have a right to expect.

Mr. Sunderland specifically questioned what he called my "confiscation" of $1.7 million from the Recreation and Parks self-sustaining funds. While it would have been helpful and fair had Mr. Sunderland provided your readers the background and current situation regarding these funds, let me do it for him absent the rhetoric and ascription of political motives.

The self-sustaining fund was created more than a decade ago to give the Recreation and Parks Department budget flexibility to offer programs in which program fees covered all costs. As the program offerings of the department expanded, it became clear that the internal administrative functions of the county, such as payroll and personnel, were spending a lot of money to support the activities of this fund. Thus, the county began tracking these costs so that the full cost of these "self-sustaining" programs could be charged to the users. In FY 1996 the county began charging the fund an administrative overhead fee to recover these costs. Unfortunately, that fund went into deficit in 1997 and the county stopped charging that fee and did not resume that practice until the 2002 budget. That meant that from 1997 through 2001 general tax dollars were subsidizing this fund that was supposed to be self-sufficient. Financial reports show that this subsidy was near $3 million dollars between 1997 and 2002.

My decision to take back these surplus funds was based on two reasons. First, it is clear that the county had been subsidizing a function that was supposed to be self-sustaining. In a year which each general fund dollar was critical, I felt that I needed to balance the books on this subsidy. Now that the fund is being charged an overhead fee, I believe that there is more justification to leave any future surpluses with the fund.

Second, the Department of Recreation and Parks indicated to me that they wanted to use these funds to build an artificial turf playing field. While I understand that this field may help to lower future operating costs, I do not believe that in a very tight budget year that it is as high a priority as maintaining current critically needed public services.

While this was not an easy decision, it was a carefully considered and, I believe, right one in a year filled with difficult decisions.

James N. Robey

Howard County Executive

From every village, let loyalty ring!

Reference is made to the proposal, reported on the first page of The Sun, that members of the Columbia Council take an oath of allegiance to the corporation/homeowner's association ("Matter of allegiance for Columbia group," May 2).

The Columbia Council's proposal to require loyalty oaths is another example of the excellent ideas which we have come to expect from the Council. My only complaint is that their proposal does not go far enough. Why should only Council members be asked to swear an oath of fealty to the Columbia Association (CA)? Why should we send a message to everyone else in Columbia that it's OK for them to be disloyal?

We must expect and demand loyalty from everyone who dwells on Columbia's sacred soil. It is certainly not too much to ask that schools in Columbia begin the day with a recitation by the students of an oath to CA: "We pledge allegiance to the Columbia Association and to the open spaces and recreational facilities for which it stands, one geographical area, under the Rouse Company, with open spaces and recreation for all who can afford it."

Shouldn't each homeowner be required to swear an oath of allegiance as well? Of course, they can decline to execute the oath. But then it's only fair to expect them to relocate to a place for which they are willing to swear allegiance. Even if it doesn't have a tennis court or a swimming pool.

Should we let teachers who are not willing to take the oath teach in our schools? Of course not! We don't want anyone teaching in a Columbian school who might dis' our beloved homeland.

And don't forget the merchants. Should merchants be allowed to take advantage of a location in such a high-income geographical area as Columbia without taking the oath and flying the flag of Columbia over their stores? The question answers itself.

What about Howard County police officers who patrol Columbia? Can we trust cops who don't care about the place they are supposed to protect? Of course not. The oath for them too! We'll just add the words, "protect" and "defend" to their oaths.

I don't know about the rest of you, but I am going to take the oath regardless of whether the council requires it of residents. And I am going to make a button to wear declaring, "I took the Columbian oath. How about you?" and wear it proudly at all times when I am present in the Columbian geographical area.

I think you should take the oath too. And I think you should wear the button. And when I am wearing my button and I run into someone else wearing his, I'm going to salute him with my arm outstretched in front of me upward at a 45-degree angle, as I proudly click my heels together and know that at least there are two of us who know that we stand for something!

Under the flag of Columbia

Barry Blyveis

Columbia

Feeling left out in Oakland Mills

As a resident of Oakland Mills I am concerned that a recent vote by the board members of the Columbia Association (who are also Columbia Council members) puts residents of our village in a situation that none of the other villages face.

It appears that with the recent vote, on issues pertaining to Howard County government, our village will be the only village that will sometimes have no representation on the Council.

With the board vote of 7-2 a policy change now restricts board members who are county, state or federal employees from discussing or voting on matters related to those entities. Because our representative on the Council, Barbara Russell, is employed by the county government she will be restricted in representing us on the Council.

If the Council felt that there was a need for a policy change, the matter should have been discussed prior to the recent village elections. Since there was no time for input into this change before the election, this matter should have been shelved until there was sufficient time for input. Certainly it should not have come until after the tenure of our recently reelected representative.

Since there is precedent for the board to reconsider an issue on which it has already voted (e.g. method of assessment) I request that the Board reconsider and delay a decision until sometime before the next election.

It is unfair (after an election) to deny our village input into any issues regarding the county government that come before the Columbia Council.

I, for one, voted for Barbara Russell because I believe that her knowledge of, and experience with the Howard County government makes her an asset to the Columbia Council.

I urge residents of all villages in Columbia to request that we Oakland Mills residents not be left without a vote on some important issues that come before the Columbia Council.

Ronnie Koppelman

Columbia

Januszkiewicz remark criticized

On April 25, the Columbia Association (CA) Board of Directors had on its agenda an item to clarify the existing Conflict of Interest and Ethics Policy to make explicit that it applied to all Board/Council members. During Resident Speak-Out, Cecilia Januszkiewicz, former Columbia Council and CA Board member from the Village of Long Reach, equated the Board's consideration of this item with "Nazi Germany."

On April 9, Jews commemorated Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. There is no formal liturgy for this day, but it is a time for reflection on the horrors that ran its full course over a dozen years. It is also the time to remember those six million Jews who perished, particularly those for whom there is no family alive today to remember them for they all perished.

At sundown on April 20, I commemorated my own mother's passing - as I do annually in ritual, focused memories, longing, and even pain. She escaped the fascist tyranny, being among those who were able to leave her native Poland before it was too late. Many of her family and friends were not so fortunate. There is no place for such a tasteless, baseless, insensitive, callous, repugnant remark by Ms. Januszkiewicz - not at a CA Board meeting, not at a Columbia Council meeting, not anywhere.

It was a desecration of the memories of my mother's family and friends, the remainder of the six million, and the millions of others who were non-Jews but were systematically exterminated anyway by the Nazi killing machine and its collaborators because they were, for example, homosexuals, physically handicapped, mental "defectives," elderly, and other ethnic "undesirables," and a total disregard of the survivors and their families and those others who simply remember.

Lanny J. Morrison

Columbia

CA ethics policy gags board member

The April 25 meeting of CA's Board of Directors has to rank as one of the most shameful episodes in the history of CA. The majority of the Board approved a resolution that attempts to apply a "gag rule" to one of its more independent-minded Board members, Barbara Russell.

Miles Coffman, from Hickory Ridge, and Pearl Atkinson-Stewart, of Owen Brown, led the charge. They pushed for the resolution that, in essence, changes CA's Conflict of Interest rules to limit the freedom of speech of any Board members who happen to be government employees, such as Ms. Russell. Credit should go to Board members Josh Feldmark and Tom O'Connor for refusing to go along with the majority on this resolution.

This was no high-minded action based on principle. It was obviously aimed directly at Ms. Russell. In previous years, other Board members who had been government employees, including Ms. Atkinson-Stewart herself, did not have to face this kind of limitation on their right to speak out and vote on all issues. It was obvious then, as it is now, that individual Board members, who also work for federal, state, or local government, don't benefit financially from dicisions made at CA.

The ironic part of this resolution is that it will now put more public scrutiny on the actions of the other Board members who voted for it. People will now look much more closely and point out the potential conflicts of interest of those other Board members. As the old saying goes, "be careful what you wish for."

Alex Hekimian

Columbia(The writer is president of Alliance for a Better Columbia.)

Taxpayers deserve better government

Money, money, money, money! That's what it's always about. Anytime, anywhere and especially in Howard County, money is the all-purpose antidote. The golden calf is the Howard County taxpayer that fuels government's voracious hunger for dollars.

Governments at all levels never have and probably never will be as prudent as they should in the taxing and spending of citizens' money. In Howard County a bottomless pit blesses the bureaucracy, and one way or another dollars will be extracted. Working within a budget is secondary to borrowing money and raiding the piggy bank that is dubbed the "rainy day" fund.

Whatever happened to the concept of doing more with less? Must education really consume 52 percent of Howard County's budget? Have test scores and overall student achievement really improved enough to justify the dollars proposed in the 2003 budget? Have we been doing the best we can with current resources? Are these questions worthy of consideration or am I a heretic who deserves a public flogging?

If the citizens of Howard County find it acceptable to be at the mercy of endlessly rising property assessments and, most probably, a property tax increase in 2003, they should joyfully maintain the status quo.

If, however, taxpayers desire a government that is more responsible with their hard earned treasure and more sensitive to the burden that higher taxes and higher property assessments incurs, they should thoughtfully consider an alternative to business as usual.

Carl LaVerghetta

Ellicott City

Make biking safer on Columbia paths

The Saturday morning Bike-About sponsored by the Columbia Association was wonderful. It was very well attended with a well-marked route and plenty of volunteers.

Riding through Columbia by bike makes the rider realize that there are very few crosswalks in Columbia. Every time a bike trail ended at a road there was no way to cross without a policeman to stop traffic or a volunteer to help guide you across a busy street.

It is ironic that a town of many villages with so many walking paths seems so oriented toward the car and not the pedestrian or bike rider.

The safety of biking with your family depends on highly visible, well painted crosswalks all over Columbia. This would also be an excellent way to slow down the traffic.

David Holdefer

Columbia

River Hill article correct on racism

I attended the meeting on April 22 of the River Hill High School and the River Hill community. I was a parent at River Hill High for five years. My last son graduated in June of 2001.

For the five years my sons were at River Hill High I tried to work with administrators, staff, parents and students to promote a more positive atmosphere between Black and White students.

The article "River Hill takes a look at promise unfulfilled" (April 24) was right on target. Racism has prevailed at River Hill High since day one. I was glad to see that the River Hill community has become involved in this serious situation.

At the meeting on Monday evening, I noted that there were politicians, school administrators, parents, community members and three African American River Hill High School teachers in attendance. I also observed there were no white teachers present at the meeting. Were they not informed of the meeting? Were they asked to attend and didn't? Were they asked not to attend? Is this indicative of their priorities on race issues?

Melvina Brown

Ellicott City

Racism a problem at other schools, too

On April 24, you published a front page article entitled "River Hill takes a look at promise unfulfilled." I believe that this article emphasized the wrong things. While I agree with most of the points that the article addressed, I believe it missed a few.

In your article, you repeatedly refer to Rouse's dream. What impact do you really think that his dream has on the way that we as citizens buy property, and live our lives? I can guarantee you that people don't move to Columbia because they want to be a part of his dream, they move here because it is convenient to their place of work, or because they like the area, not because of Rouse's attempt at a suburban utopia.

However, it is irrational to even bring Rouse's dream into a discussion about the River Hill community or Clarksville. No matter what you call it, it was not built as part of Rouse's plan originally.

Some of Clarksville has been here far longer than any of Columbia, and it is only seen one of the Rouse communities now, because the others expanded out to meet it where it already stood. Clarksville is not part of Columbia, and should not be treated as such.

I believe that it is incredibly unfair to single out River Hill High School as having racism and discrimination problems. It is true that they do have a problem, but they are not alone in that. Racism exists in other schools as much as in River Hill, and the article should have been about racism in Maryland schools, or Howard County Schools, not solely River Hill.

One point that should have been more directly addressed is the fact that many members of the River Hill community refuse to accept that the war against racism is still being fought. It is still a major issue and one that wont go away if we ignore it.

Rachel Stuparek

Ellicott City

(The writer is an 11th-grade student at River Hill High School.)

River Hill student offended by article

I am a junior at River Hill High School. Your newspaper wrote an article that ran on the front page of the newspaper about my school ("River Hill takes a look at promise unfulfilled," April 24). I read this article and was greatly appalled and angered by this article. It does not portray River Hill at all.

I found the writer calling us racist was inexcusable. River Hill students are very nice and open to other people. We are like any other high school. Yes, we do have a wealthy community, but that doesn't make us any different. Also as a note, not all River Hill students are wealthy. There are TechMagnet students that are from other cities that are not wealthy.

I do understand that some people are harassed and I do not think that it's okay, but that occurs in every school. Also, why when race is brought up, are only "black" and "white" people discussed? I am Korean and I, too, have been judged. River Hill has a high Asian population and we are never discussed as discrimination. What about the Indian and Mexican population here, too? Our school isn't perfect, but no school is. I have never been so offended by an article.

Youle Soh

Ellicott City

In the long term, maglev will help

I am pleased that at least one county delegate, Mr. Gianetti, actually has the foresight to think big and long term about what maglev could mean to not just people in Howard County but to the nation. Alternative means of transportation must be developed, or in 30 years we'll be stranded in an East Coast mega-city bound in gridlock. And alternative means require testing, require some place where they are tried out before they can be considered commercially viable or not.

Building a new train line, elevated or not, is similar to building a new highway in that there are unquestionably impacts about routes, and public discourse and input is a must. But to speak of this as simply a way to get BWI passengers to Washington or that it's only being built because there is some need to play with neat technology is to try and replace discourse with hot-button emotionalism. I would think I should be able to expect more of our public representatives than that.

People can legitimately argue over the benefits, impacts and tradeoffs technology has had on the United States; from the car, to the highway system and concerns about building new roads, the telephone system and electrical power systems that plants visually blighting poles every 30 feet along our roads.

I hope the debate continues and that people consider the long term ramifications of both doing this and not doing it.

John McGing

Columbia

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