Howard County Executive James N. Robey (D) and the three Democrats on the County Council made a last-ditch attempt this week to amend a Republican proposal that would have county voters decide whether raising local income and property taxes should be more difficult.
But GOP council members Allan H. Kittleman (West County) and Christopher J. Merdon (Northeast County) immediately dismissed the idea as a ploy to derail their effort while providing political cover for the Democrats.
On Tuesday, Robey announced he and the council Democrats would support the GOP-sponsored proposal -- which calls for a referendum on whether future tax increases should require the support of four out of five council members -- if two amendments were adopted. Robey wanted a change added that would eliminate the need for the four council votes if a tax increase were to compensate for a decrease in state aid or provide for "adequate services," such as police and fire protection.
"I am firmly committed to fiscal restraint that is within reason," Robey said in a statement. "There are, however, circumstances that I strongly believe must be considered within the realm of such restraint."
Kittleman said he could work with the Democrats on their call for an exemption to make up for cuts in state aid, but he called the second amendment concerning county services "a poison pill." That proposal, which he described as too vague, was designed to kill the measure by forcing the two Republicans on the council to vote against it, he said.
"They have refused to let me or Mr. Merdon have an up or down vote," Kittleman said. "This is a political tool to prevent us from having a vote on our amendment, and they will be able to tell the people, 'Oh, we voted for an amendment that will make it harder to raise taxes.' . . . It's unfortunate, but they are in power. We will just have to remind the voters in 2006 that is the way they do business."
The amendments to the GOP proposal would require the support of three council members to pass. Four votes are needed to approve the overall plan. A final vote was expected as early as Tuesday night.
Kittleman said the GOP would try to gather the 10,000 signatures to force their initial proposal onto the ballot this fall regardless of the council's decision.
Pay Pact for Schools Chief
Sydney L. Cousin will be paid $199,000 a year plus benefits to lead the Howard County public school system for the next four years, according to his contract.
The school board had settled on Cousin as the county's new superintendent last month, and he accepted the job. Board members cemented that decision last Thursday when Cousin signed his contract.
Cousin had been interim superintendent for the past four months, completing the term of John O'Rourke, who stepped down at the end of February after the board decided not to renew his four-year contract.
Cousin worked for the Howard school system for 16 years before retiring last summer and taking a job as chief of facilities for D.C. schools. He had been drawing his Howard County pension but will not be allowed to do so while he is superintendent.
Cousin will receive raises commensurate with those given to other administrators and supervisors, according to his contract. He also will receive a car allowance of $575 a month.
O'Rourke's annual salary was about $197,000.