Monday, April 23, 2012

Where There's Smoke (Monday LINKS)

County Executive Ken Ulman issued his Proposed FY 2013 Operating Budget (PDF) on Friday.  I have not had enough time to develop an opinion worth sharing, but my preliminary thoughts are that it is a remarkably "tight" Budget that continues to fund important priorities.  A lot of this is at the expense of "General Government", which is reduced 28% and over $26 million.  My reservation on saying much else is  based on my complete ignorance of what constitutes "General Government", but I hope to remedy that soon.

Most prominent in the new budget is a proposed increase of the (now) county-wide fire tax rate from $.1355 per $100 assessed to $.176 per $100 assessed.  I don't normally trust myself with math in the morning, but based on my foggy-headed review, a $300,000 home would have paid $406.50 under the old tax and will pay $528.00 under the proposed increase.  Extrapolate from that what you will.

When the Exec first proposed legislation making a county-wide tax, I...hmm, how do I put this.  Well, I told you this was going to happen.  This is step two of the Fire-Tax-Two-Step.  It is "what's in the box."

But, to the frustration of many of my friends, I am going to yet again disagree with the process and endorse the product.  I think an increase in the county-wide fire tax is necessary.  Here's why:

Unlike general spending funds from property and income taxes, the fire tax is a dedicated specialty income stream.  Fire and Rescue expenditures are bound by the Fire and Rescue tax.  However, for the last five years, as population and coverage areas have increased, the F&R revenue has decreased due to declining property values.  Unlike the Howard County Property Tax, fluctuations in the F&R tax were not controlled by a Homestead Credit, which would have slowed income peaks off of a bubble, but also cushioned a fall due to collapse.

Stated most simply, our Fire and Rescue has been asked to do more with less.  Between 2008 and 2011, the Howard County fire department has reduced expenditures from $68 million to $62 million.  Any more cuts would seem to be hitting bone.  There is now a new fire station in Glenwood to staff and additional units are necessary to relieve stations that have been spread thin throughout regions that are expected to grow.

This is a preliminary opinion.  The increased fire tax is the fire department's product to sell.  But what is most important in setting the parameters of the debate is recognizing that this is not something that "cutting Healthy Howard" would solve.  This is a self-contained revenue-expenditure system that can be viewed in very simple terms: Do you have enough money to do your job?  If not, I think the citizens of Howard County would be willing to support this increase.


Amongst the $899 million Operating expenses proposed in Executive Ulman's Budget is $366,500 to fund the Plan to End Homelessness.  This is a very big step in the right direction.  These funds will go toward preventing homelessness before it starts and avenues of assistance to help our citizens get out of the woods and back on their feet.  I strongly believe this is a responsible use of tax-payer dollars to reduce money-pit social services that provide maintenance instead of repair.

Cynthia Coyle won re-election to the Columbia Association Board in Harper's Choice by a vote of 198 to 171 over her challenger Robert Fontaine.

The stories out of Anne Arundel County are just getting weirder.  After resigning from his post with the Attorney General's office so that he may sue County Executive Leopold in relation to a purported dossier that was kept by AA Co Police, "civil rights leader" Carl Snowden was charged in Baltimore City District Court with marijuana possession.  Looks like everyone is out to get him.

Reading this article about cyber-bullying, I couldn't help but think that the criminalization of bullying is the wrong way to approach this problem.  It just continues the same "otherness" that tends to run the conversation on bullying.  The conversation needs to turn from focusing on victims to focusing on the bullies.  We need an open conversation that starts with the presumption that all of our kids are the bully-ers and not the bully-ed.  How do we intervene?  How do we stop the bullies we love?

Featured Blog Post of the Day: As someone who has disagreed with the tactics of the HCEA in this year's Board of Education race, I found last week's episode of And Then There's That to be particularly educational.  First, Paul Lemle could probably sell a ketchup Popsicle to a lady in white gloves.  Second, Paul is refreshingly up front about his motivations and thoughts on the current Board.  As an example, he supported Allen Dyer and wanted to endorse him.  Things didn't cut that way, and the HCEA chose not to endorse any incumbents under the banner of "dysfunction."  That merits an analysis all by itself, but I appreciate the insight into this body that has almost become personified by its president.  I also agree with WB's analysis that Paul will be someone we can expect to see in Howard County politics for some time.  I would like that.

That's all for today.  Have a great Monday doing what you love!