Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker, who campaigned against the county's mounting debt, will get a chance to put his words into action this month as he considers a $120.9 million capital budget request.

At first blush, the fiscal 1992 budget request from county agencies, which spells out construction plans for everything from schools and roads to parks and sewers, appears modest compared with the $185 million budget approved for the fiscal year ending June 30.

But the latest request would set in motion a six-year construction program that would cost more than $1 billion.

"I am concerned about the debt. I probably will reduce the {capital} budget, but first I want to hear what the planning board has to say," said Ecker, a Republican.

The capital budget differs from the county's annual operating budget in that it is funded principally with bond revenue, which typically spreads the costs over 30 years. Last year's capital budget called for selling $112.9 million in bonds; this year's plan would call for selling $87.6 million.

That still might be more than the county can afford, said Raymond S. Wacks, the county's budget director. Wacks, a member of a committee that advises the county on lending limits, said the county's bond rating might suffer if officials try to sell that many bonds. Currently, the county receives a AA+ rating from the country's two largest bond rating houses and a top, AAA rating from a smaller firm. The high ratings enable the county to save thousands of dollars through favorable interest rates.

Ecker warned last month that the region's economic downturn has depleted county operating surpluses to such a degree that the county risked jeopardizing its bond rating. He said he hoped to set aside about $1 million in fiscal 1992 as a first step toward rebuilding a $12 million rainy day fund, roughly 5 percent of the county budget. (Financial institutions and bond rating companies generally want local governments to maintain unrestricted surpluses equal to about 5 percent of their revenue.)

During his successful campaign in November, Ecker criticized county leaders for not using more of their year-end surpluses during boom times to reduce the county debt. He also complained that not enough capital dollars were being spent on roads and other transportation needs.

The capital budget is being considered by the county's planning board, which held a public hearing on the plan last week. The board will make its recommendations to Ecker, who will submit his revised proposal to the County Council in April for its approval.

As now outlined, the capital budget seeks to follow through on many of the recommendations made in the county's General Plan, a 20-year blueprint for growth that was approved last fall.

The budget, for instance, would accelerate the purchase of parkland and provide money to speed up or "forward fund" road construction projects. The latter expenditure would be a departure for the county, which typically has moved forward on state road projects only when state funding was available.

The capital budget proposes setting aside $4.85 million for speeding up road projects. The county hopes it eventually will recoup its contributions when state funding becomes available. Next year, some of the money would be used to improve the congested corridors of Route 40 between Rogers Avenue and the Normandy Shopping Center and the eastbound lanes of Route 32 between Route 29 and Interstate 95.

"I think we have to forward fund some road projects. I don't like it, but we probably don't have any choice," Ecker said. "We have been forward funding school construction for years. We have gotten some of the money back {from the state}, and some we haven't."

The capital budget proposes spending $3 million in the 1992 fiscal year for a $6 million, 300-acre park in the western part of the county.

It also would set aside money to buy land for at least seven 20-acre community parks across the county.

"We should concentrate our money on buying land now instead of making park improvements," Ecker said.

Among the other additions in the proposed capital budget is a request to boost by $10 million spending for a future Route 100 link between Routes 29 and 104; $285,000 to evaluate where to put the next landfill; $5.3 million to build a center for recycling yard wastes; $75,000 to study building a central maintenance garage; $700,000 to save a historic B&O railroad station in Ellicott City; and $250,000 to renovate a county arts center.