The Howard County Council delayed voting on approval of the county’s fiscal 2013 budget until May 31, too late to be included in this issue.
Leading up to that special session, however, council members proposed to adopt a new tax rate of 1.0124 cents per $100 of assessment in order to maintain the state-mandated Constant Yield Tax Rate. By law, the state prohibits local governments from setting property tax rates at a level that will generate revenues exceeding the previous year’s property tax revenues.
“If [we] maintained the current property tax rate of $1.014 cents per $100 of assessment, real property tax revenues would increase by .2% or $644,948 [from fiscal 2012 levels],” Council Chair Mary Kay Sigaty said.
Council members were also informed of a shortage of funds used for the jury stipends in the county.
“In the Circuit Court, we do our best to estimate what the length and number of jury trials will be,” said Howard County Circuit Court Judge Lenore Gelfman. “This past year we were off; we had an increase in the number of jury trials and an increase in the length of the trials.”
By law, the council is responsible for advancing additional money to replenish the jury stipend funds, which in turn will be reimbursed by the Maryland Administrative Office of the Courts.
“We are asking for a temporary transfer of the money so that we may continue to have our jury service uninterrupted,” Gelfman said.
Also in May, the council was asked to consider a change to the Howard County Board of Education’s operating budget for fiscal 2012, which includes a more than $1.2 million transfer to the Instruction Textbook Supplies category and $2.7 million to the Mid-Level Administration category.
“We [incurred] salary cost savings because teacher vacancies were filled with substitutes,” said Howard County Public School System Budget Director Woody Swinson.
She credited competitive pricing rebate programs, technology upgrades and employee training with providing a second major source of excess monies in last year’s fiscal budget.
“We’re going to use these additional funds for overtime needed for our maintenance and custodial workers during the hurricane last August,” Swinson said, adding that the funds will also support upgrades to Oakland Mills and Glenelg high schools.
“We’re also planning on funding a $3.3 million technology upgrade,” she said. “We requested this in the fiscal 2013 budget above Maintenance of Effort, therefore we’re going to use our excess fiscal 2012 funds for these projects.”
Bob Granfield, treasurer of the Oakland Mills High School Booster Club, said the transfer request includes $902,000 for capital improvements that include an outdoor concession stand and permanent bathrooms at the school’s football stadium, as well as alarm system security upgrades in the school.
Visitors to county-owned parkland in the Savage area encountered an unusual sight over Memorial Day Weekend — that of volunteers patrolling the trails on horseback.
The Howard County Police Department chose the Memorial Day holiday weekend as the official launch of its new mounted patrol, which is composed of 12 local volunteers using personally-owned horses and tack to provide assistance to the police.
“We want to use all available resources to best serve our citizens,” said Police Chief William McMahon, explaining the new program. “With our many parks, trails and recreational areas, this mounted unit will be a great fit for Howard County. We are grateful that these volunteers are interested in helping us serve the community.”
According to a release issued by the police department, the unit members travel parks, pathways and other designated locations by horse as a high visibility deterrent to crime. They serve as a resource to the public, providing information to citizens, and watching for and reporting violations and concerns. The volunteers will assist in investigative, administrative, and community service functions and events.
Unit members, who ride in pairs, will be able to assist in patrolling areas more accessible to people on horseback than in vehicles. Although they have no enforcement powers, the unit members will serve as some of the eyes and ears of the police department.
Each member underwent a 32-hour academy class, where they learned basic information about the police department and local laws. The cost to the police department was minimal, McMahon said, with expenses limited to uniforms and police radios.
High school students in the Howard County Public School System’s Career Academies collaborated with construction managers and marketers to develop a 7-piece modular deck as a fundraiser for the centralized school and to gain real world experience in their fields.
The deck was designed, constructed and marked by students from the Architectural Design, Advanced Animation, Construction Management Finance and Visual Communications academies with support from the Applications and Research Laboratory (ARL) Greenhouse Program and local construction and building companies. The acquisition cost for the project was $8,650.
Although only one deck was built, students noted in promotional materials that the appealing octagonal design could be reconstructed with ease.
With a footprint of 19 feet by 15 feet and incorporating a 12-foot octagon, the deck features stain-resistant PVC decking that is durable and impervious to moisture and insects. The project was displayed in the ARL building in May and is now being offered for sale.