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Picture it: Speeders on candid camera

The Baltimore Sun

Rev your engines for another debate on whether Howard County officials should have the authority to use cameras to catch speeders in residential areas. The tickets would cost $75, with the proceeds used for public safety programs.

Among the dozen local bills submitted for the General Assembly session that starts in January, that measure is likely to spark heated discussion. It is sponsored by state Sen. James N. Robey, a Democrat who is a former county executive and a former police chief. The cameras are permitted in Montgomery County, but fines there are $40 and the maximum speed limit where cameras are allowed is 35 mph.

"The $75 fine is consistent with the red-light cameras," Robey said. He wanted a 45-mph maximum speed, he said, to cover county collector roads such as Little Patuxent Parkway and Broken Land Parkway, based on county police reports of accidents on those multilane roads.

The delegation has scheduled a hearing for 7:30 p.m. Nov. 29 in the County Council's chambers in Ellicott City to hear from the public on the bills. They are available for viewing on the county government Web site -- www.co.ho.md.us/ -- under the "state delegation" button.

Other bills submitted by the county's 11 legislators include one seeking more protections for mobile home park residents facing displacement, another to allow a tax cut for some residents who have public water but not public sewerage, and several dealing with well and septic issues in the western county.

County Executive Ken Ulman also is asking for $500,000 in state bond money for three projects that have benefited from state money -- Blandair Regional Park in Columbia, North Laurel Community Center and the Robinson Nature Center planned off Cedar Lane near Route 32.

A similar, statewide speed-camera bill passed legislative muster in 2003, but it was vetoed by then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

Despite support from Ulman, the bill faces opposition in the Howard delegation. All three delegation Republicans -- state Sen. Allan H. Kittleman, Dels. Gail H. Bates and Warren E. Miller -- have said they oppose the idea, as does Del. Steven J. DeBoy, a Democrat and a retired Baltimore County police officer.

Five Democratic delegates and Robey are sponsoring a bill that would force mobile home park owners to alert residents of any offers to buy or sell the park, and give them the right to make a purchase offer. Several parks have closed along U.S. 1 in recent years as rising land prices prompt redevelopment, displacing hundreds of moderate-income families.

"Land prices are incredibly high. It's not going to be an easy thing [for tenants] to purchase parks, but we at least want to give them a chance," said Del. Guy Guzzone, one of the sponsors.

Mobile home park residents typically own their units but rent the land on which they sit. State law requires park owners to give tenants one year's notice before closing, but older trailers cannot be moved and plots for newer ones are rare.

"It would protect some affordable housing," said Del. Frank S. Turner, a co-sponsor with Dels. James E. Malone Jr., Elizabeth Bobo and DeBoy.

A bill to give the county authority to cut water and sewer taxes to some residents near the Alpha Ridge Landfill comes from Kittleman, with support from Bates and Miller.

"It's a fairness issue," Kittleman said, because some homeowners get public, piped water due to potential pollution but have no sewage system. "They pay full taxes with only half the service," he said.

Miller is pushing three other bills, one dealing with school water wells, and two others with community septic systems.

Because of frustration in getting school officials to reveal test results from the well at Lisbon Elementary, Miller said he wants to require the school board to post results on its Web site.

Last year, Lisbon students and teachers were forced to use bottled water for a time because of a high bacteria count, a situation that recurred this school year.

Despite promises to share test information, "we never saw the [test] results over the summer," Miller said. "They let students come back and then found they had bacteria in the well. I think they put students at risk."

Ken Roey, executive director of facilities and management for county schools, acknowledged the well problems, but he said the county provided bottled water until it cleared. "We did provide all test information to the parents," he said.

Miller's other bills seek to prevent more problems like those at Cattail Creek, where residents of townhouses have a failing septic system that Miller fears the county may eventually have to manage.

He wants to require builders installing a community septic system to post a performance bond to guarantee repairs if it fails. Another measure would enable the county, along with the state, to regulate such systems.


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