Howard Week

October 07, 2001

Economy may force budgetary cutbacks, Robey tells residents

Baltimore-area governments expect the economic downturn, combined with effects of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, to bite sharply into local tax revenue and public spending across the region.

With federal and state surpluses steadily shrinking, officials - even those in prosperous Howard County - are warning that cuts in local spending might be needed before the fiscal year ends June 30.

"We're looking at significant problems the rest of this year and serious problems next year," Howard County Executive James N. Robey told a citizens group Sept. 24 after a briefing from Raymond S. Wacks, county budget director.

Proposed capital budget doesn't help crowded schools

A careful look at the newly released proposed capital budget for the Howard County school district reveals two important facts.

Although the school system has enrolled about 46,000 students this year, its buildings have a capacity of about 42,000.

And, despite the dearth of classroom space, the budget recommends that only 167 new seats be planned. School district officials have stressed that the proposal - which would take effect in July - is purposely conservative to give them more time to study new enrollment projections.

Some people wonder whether more should be done. Others think "conservative" is wishful thinking.

Developer loses bid to get commercial zoning

Developer Donald R. Reuwer Jr. lost his bid Monday to rezone a 2-acre parcel at Route 99 and Marriottsville Road for commercial development, a relief for neighbors who fear a domino effect of further commercial zoning.

The Howard County Zoning Board, made up of the five County Council members, didn't even need to take a vote on the request because Reuwer had not convinced a majority of the panel that it had acted in error when it originally zoned the site.

County youths making changes in drug use

Howard County youths apparently are smoking fewer cigarettes, chewing less tobacco and drinking less beer, wine and other alcoholic beverages than they were three years ago.

But they're using far more Ecstasy and speed, more inhalants and, in some cases, smoking more marijuana and ingesting more cocaine or PCP.

The news was contained in a survey released by the Maryland Department of Education.

Council seeks reassurance on enrollment numbers

As school enrollment predictions continue to change, Howard County Council members sought reassurance from school officials Tuesday at a meeting in the George Howard Building that the future will be more predictable than the past.

The latest charts introduced at Monday night's County Council meeting, for example, show Northfield Elementary School in Ellicott City just under the legal limit for crowding - by 0.4 of 1 percent. The school was at 115 percent in a chart two weeks ago, but the figure was recalculated to 114.6 percent.

That means the area around the school will be open to developers in 2004 - despite charts produced by school officials about two weeks ago that said otherwise. Under county law, development around a school projected to be 115 percent of capacity in three years is halted until changes correct the problem. The chart will become law if the council adopts it formally at a meeting Nov. 5.

Trial is postponed; outside judge sought

The trial of a Baltimore social worker accused of telling a teen-ager in his custody to leave on his own after a juvenile hearing in Howard County last fall was postponed Wednesday so that court officials could request an out-of-county judge to hear the case.

With witnesses in the case against Larry D. Richardson waiting in the hallway, two Howard County Circuit Court judges recused themselves during two separate hearings. They said they either knew too much about the case or were uncomfortable hearing testimony from one of the state's witnesses - a court official whose job is closely tied to the judges.

During a trial postponement hearing Wednesday - the second of the two - Judge Diane O. Leasure recused herself and said that all of the county's circuit judges were "of a similar mind." She said she would ask court officials to request a visiting judge to hear the case.

Six lanes are a must for Route 216, SHA says

After stepping back to consider residents' doubts about the idea, State Highway Administration officials came back to southern Howard County last night to insist that Route 216 between Interstate 95 and U.S. 29 should be widened to six lanes next year.

Officials said the decision for six lanes came down to timing.

If Route 216 is expanded to four lanes, it probably will need to be widened again in 15 years to accommodate traffic from several large developments in the works, said Mike Haley, an SHA planner.

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