Council backs resolution for a higher gasoline tax

Unanimous vote supports Leggett’s call for an increase to pay for transit projects

Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2006

The County Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a resolution supporting an increase in the state gasoline tax to pay for transportation projects such as the Purple Line and the Corridor Cities Transitway.

The council’s unanimous support for the tax hike bolsters County Executive Isiah Leggett (D), who called for an increase during a Monday breakfast meeting.

‘‘Part of my objective was to have the county executive’s back and to show him that we were out there with him,” said Councilman Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Chevy Chase, who proposed the resolution, which has no force of law. ‘‘The goal was to change the political dynamic around the issue ... and show the governor that all the top elected officials of the state’s most populous county are speaking with one voice.”

The council’s resolution does not suggest how much of an increase is called for.

Grants dominate final meeting

A scheduled five-minute approval of the council’s consent agenda took an extended turn as several council members began a lengthy discussion of a grants advisory group and its role in determining grant allocations to nonprofit organizations.

The council was scheduled to vote on appointments to the Grants Advisory Group, which reviews grant applications and makes recommendations to council. The council previously revised the guidelines for the group, which had come under fire in the past for its lack of nonprofit experience and its ranking of applications.

On Tuesday, Councilwoman Valerie Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring and others took issue with the process, and Ervin proposed her own review guidelines.

‘‘I’m concerned that there are still issues to address,” said Ervin, whose proposal recommends that an independent panel review and allocate grants according to the council’s priorities. Money would be set aside for onetime projects that nonprofits have difficulty funding.

‘‘I don’t think there will ever be perfect answer,” said Councilman George L. Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park, who led the original revision of the grants process. ‘‘I caution my colleagues not to ‘disempower’ themselves too quickly” by giving authority to an independent panel.

Ervin’s recommendations will be discussed later by Health and Human Services Committee.

Growth review on fast track

The council also voted unanimously to expedite the review of the county’s growth policy by requiring the Planning Board to complete the review three months earlier than usual.

The Planning Board’s final review will be due May 21, with preliminary reports set for February and April. The growth policy is reviewed every two years and a planning report is usually due to the council on Aug. 1.

The speeded-up schedule, proposed by Council President Marilyn J. Praisner (D-Dist. 4) of Calverton, would allow the council to vote on the policy before its August recess.

The council will vote next year on another Praisner recommendation, which would establish a six-month building moratorium. Praisner and several of her colleagues have lobbied for a slowdown so that services can catch up to the county’s rising population.

Planning Board Chairman Royce Hanson said Tuesday that by shortening the review cycle, some employees will have to be reallocated and other items, such as master plan reviews, will be delayed. The Planning Board’s budget includes money for about five and a half full-time employees dedicated to the growth policy review.

‘‘The objective is to produce comprehensive tools for managing growth, and what is necessary to support it,” Hanson said. ‘‘We also expect to look a qualitative standards and fiscal effects.”

Roads overhaul introduced

The council also agreed hold hearings on Councilwoman Nancy M. Floreen’s longstanding attempts to revise the county’s road design standards.

The revisions are intended to make roads more pedestrian- and environmentally friendly, said Floreen (D-At large) Garrett Park. Suggestions include narrowing roads, tightening corners at intersections to slow down turning vehicles and shorten the distance for pedestrians to cross streets and widening sidewalks in some areas.

A public hearing is set for 7:30 p.m. Jan. 23.