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Green budget for Howard Co.

The Baltimore Sun

Howard County would buy 25 hybrid vehicles for its government fleet and up to five hybrid buses for the local bus system if the County Council adopts a $1.3 billion budget presented last night by County Executive Ken Ulman.

Reflecting an environmental theme that Ulman emphasized in last year's election, the budget also proposes a pilot program to add solar power to public buildings.

Ulman's first operating budget - a 10.7 percent increase from this fiscal year's spending plan - contains funds for more police officers and firefighters and gives the school board all but $2.3 million of the $429.5 million it had requested.

Homeowners' tax bills would increase, too, although the general property and income tax rates would remain static.

Rising property assessments, a 9 percent water and sewer tax increase, and a proposed fire tax boost would drive up the bills. The owner of a $450,000 home would pay $228 more in property taxes, plus $135 more for western county residents if a separate fire property tax rises. Eastern county residents of a median-priced home would pay $45 more under the two-tiered fire tax, which would even the rate countywide.

Ulman is proposing to hire 32 new police officers and seven civilian police workers - four times the number proposed last year - plus 39 firefighters and four fire department civilians.

The budget also puts $14 million aside to begin saving for future retiree health benefits, a $477 million liability under a change in federally mandated national accounting standards.

The council has until June 1 to study the budget and make cuts. The council can also restore money that Ulman cut from the schools but must come up with funding revenue.

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