Residents give priorities for capital funds


The funding requests are much higher, but the supply of money is lower for Howard County's annual list of proposed capital projects - the subject of a Planning Board public hearing last night in the George Howard Building.

The requests for the budget year that begins July 1 total $203.4 million, compared with this year's approved budget of $106.3 million.

County schools represent the largest single category, with a request of $87 million, followed by Howard Community College, which is asking for $25.2 million. Money to help build a new, 12th high school, three new elementary schools and a new performance arts building at the college lead the list, along with $19 million for road construction.

But county officials are expecting less state school construction money, and the cash surpluses spent on capital projects a few years ago are gone, too.

Less state aid and large spending demands have placed the county's political leaders in a capital budget squeeze that is imperiling many smaller, though no less vital, spending requests.

County residents came out last night to make personal pleas for many of those items.

Wayne Moore spoke out for a traffic circle at Triadelphia Mill and Highland roads, near Dayton, where a car accident killed his father-in-law and left his mother-in-law so badly injured that she incurred $900,000 in medical bills.

Pat Pool wants the county to pay its share for sound barriers to shield her Elkridge community from the deafening, constant roar of Interstate 95, a few hundred feet away.

Pool said she bought her home in 1969, two years before I-95 opened, a quiet, pleasant time she cannot remember any more. Now that the state government has agreed to fund 80 percent of the $2.5 million cost of sound walls, she wants the county to come up with its 20 percent share.

"The noise level is horrible, even with the windows closed," she said, not to mention the multiple-pane windows and extra insulation she and her husband installed.

In all, about 100 people came to ask the board to recommend the projects they want to County Executive James N. Robey, who will hold a hearing next month before paring the list and presenting it to the County Council by April 1.

Officials asked for an expanded Savage Volunteer Fire Department firehouse, money for parks and historic preservation of Blandair Mansion, a building to store large police department vehicles, such as the 40-foot-long mobile command center, and money for more patrol car computers.

Many of these smaller items are less likely to make it into the county capital budget. If the county's state legislators refuse to approve Robey's proposed real estate transfer tax increase to provide more money for school construction, the pressure on the executive to cut requests will increase.

His plan is to raise $215 million for school construction over eight years by increasing the transfer tax from 1 percent to 1.5 percent, but state legislators are reluctant to approve that change in state law. Instead, they have adopted the objections voiced by county Realtors who want general income taxes or property taxes raised instead. A vote of the 11 delegation members is expected tomorrow.

Robey has said that if the legislators turn him down, money may not be available for things like what resident Mark Fleming requested for his block of Valley Road in Ellicott City - reconstruction of a gaping storm drain that is so large it has swallowed several basketballs. "A child or a pet would be the next thing to go," he said.

But not everyone came seeking county money.

Laura Bollinger of Laurel made her annual trek to the hearing to ask the county to leave her and her neighbors alone: "I worry about the quality of life" on Fairview Drive, she said, where the county and many in the North Laurel community want to see High Ridge Park developed and a vehicle turn-around built.

Sally Voris and a few of her neighbors do not want Dorsey Run Road extended to serve a developer trying to build a warehouse near their homes - a project bitterly fought by the community over the past several years. "Don't extend it, Matt Westbrook testified, until the developer agrees to a forest conservation zone to help buffer their homes from the noise and disruption business will bring.

And the recession-driven money crunch has put some requests beyond reach.

Last year, for example, a group of fourth-grade pupils at Centennial Lane Elementary School came to the annual hearing to ask for money for a long-planned footbridge over the busy road outside their school. They did not get what they wanted then, and they did not return for an encore performance last night.

"We've pretty much been told it's been put off until 2005 or 2006," said Jon T. Merryman, who heads the school PTA's safety committee.

In yesterday's Howard County edition of The Sun, the amount of money requested for bridges, roads, sidewalks and traffic improvements in the fiscal year 2004 budget was incorrect in a chart accompanying an article about Howard funding requests for capital projects. The chart compared amounts from this year's capital budget to requests for next fiscal year. The correct amount for FY 2004 is $34.9 million requested, compared with $5 million approved this year.The Sun regrets the error.
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