The field of contenders running for three spots on the Howard County Board of Education has narrowed from 14 to six following the April primary. The candidates remaining — Janet Siddiqui, Ann DeLacey, Ellen Flynn Giles, Jackie Scott, David Gertler and Bob Ballinger, in descending rank of votes received in the primary — will face each other again in the November general election.
Incumbent School Board Member Allen Dyer finished eighth in the primary race. Other board members voted earlier this year to ask the state to remove Dyer from his position due to repeated lawsuits he has filed against the board and for alleged breaches of confidentiality provisions.
In Congressional District 2, incumbent Dutch Ruppersberger (D) of Cockeysville will face state Sen. Nancy Jacobs (R) of Bel Air, while Congressional District 3 incumbent John Sarbanes (D) of Towson will face Eric Delano Knowles (R) of Baltimore, and in District 7, incumbent Elijah Cummings of Baltimore will face Frank Mirabile (R) of Woodbine.
Fire Tax Approved
At its legislative session on March 29, the Howard County Council voted 4-1 to pass a resolution eliminating the county’s two-tiered fire tax system.
“From my perspective we’re looking at this being the only split tax that we have in Howard County,” said Council President Mary Kay Sigaty (D-Dist. 4).
“I think there were reasonable arguments made on both sides,” said Councilwoman Courtney Watson (D-Dist. 1), “but … I think that we are one county and we are providing the same level of service. I don’t necessarily equate the single district to improvements in insurance rates; I think they are two separate issues.”
Councilman Greg Fox (R-Dist. 5), who cast the lone dissenting vote, said he recognized that improvements have been made in the rural West during Fire Chief Bill Goddard’s tenure.
“I hope that those who support the single district system understand where I, and others, in the rural west are coming from,” Fox said. “There are many ways to look at this issue. I don’t say one way’s wrong and one way’s right, I only wish that the decision came after we had received the ISO analysis and after more discussion with the community.”
Fox also requested that the rural west not be shortchanged on extra dollars coming into the system from the fire tax. “[D]on’t take for granted the vast volunteer hours and community donations that substantially reduce the average cost of running these volunteer stations,” he said.
Just weeks after the council’s vote, County Executive Ken Ulman (D) proposed an increase in the fire tax in his fiscal 2013 operating budget, which he announced on April 20. The proposed new rate of 17.6 cents per $100 of assessed property value equates to a 30% increase for property owners in the east, who currently pay 13.55 cents per $100, and a 52% increase to the 11.55-cent rate currently paid by homeowners in the rural west.
The proposed 2013 budget includes 42 additional Fire and Rescue Services positions that will help staff the Glenwood Station in western Howard County and increase the number of paramedic units from 12 to 14, providing extra service to Ellicott City and other heavily populated areas.
At a Legislative Wrap-Up Breakfast hosted by the Howard County Chamber of Commerce, elected state officials provided an overview of the positive and negative outcomes of the 2012 session of the Maryland General Assembly.
“We are required by the state Constitution to pass a balanced budget,” said Sen. Allan Kittleman (R-9). “That’s the only thing we didn’t do.”
A new septic requirement passed this year as part of the Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2012 will limit residential development on rural properties, he said, regardless of size, to only seven lots.
“There are probably some farmers in western Howard County and the rest of the state who literally have had value taken away from their property completely,” Kittleman said. “You don’t need agricultural and farmland preservation anymore, because we’ve done it by fiat. That’s something you should be very concerned about.”
He predicted that Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) would call the General Assembly back for a special session sometime in May, because the counties will need accurate revenue figures from the state in order to finalize their own budgets.
Del. Gail Bates (R-9A), however, said she wouldn’t be disappointed if the governor didn’t call a special session. “Only in Maryland is a 2% budget increase called doomsday,” she said. “I think we can live with what we have. The budget, as passed, does not pass pension costs to the locals. That’s huge for Howard County.”
In the event the General Assembly does return, she suggested the emphasis might be on a sales tax increase, as opposed to an income tax increase.
“That’s not a good policy either, but that’s where I think we might end up going,” Bates said.
For Del. Jimmy Malone (D-12A), the regular session’s successes included passage of a bill making texting while driving a primary offense for all age groups. “It’s killing children more than you will ever know,” he said, pledging to work toward passing similar legislation addressing cell phones next year.
Another success, Malone said, was a new law that will allow veterans to have their status identified on state drivers’ licenses, eliminating the need for them to carry additional paperwork to access the benefits, discounts and services they have earned by serving their country.
Del. Steve DeBoy (D-12A) surmised that a special session will be called in May because Baltimore City is facing a $60 million hit in public safety and education.
“Anything’s on the table when we come back,” he said. “Gambling will probably still be a component of whatever we do when the governor calls us back.”
Del. Frank Turner (D-13) agreed, questioning the motivations of the Senate and House of Delegates leaders who ultimately forced the budget stalemate concerning differences of opinion on the gambling issue.
“The budget should have been passed,” Turner said. “You can never put gaming in front of the state budget. It’s not the right thing to do.”