Howard Week

March 24, 2002

Renters angered about paying new water, sewer fees

Roberto Reyes expects to pay more than $400 this year for water and sewer service in the Columbia apartment he shares with his wife and two children.

To Reyes, 44, it feels like a double economic punch. Those costs had been included in his rent until five months ago. Other angry renters and tenants'-rights advocates agree, calling the fast-spreading practice of billing unmetered tenants such as Reyes for water a hidden rent increase at best and an outrageous rip-off at worst. The companies that do the billing say it is fair because costs are divided based on the number of people or number of bedrooms in each apartment.

Columbia report examines way the town is governed

It took a committee of Columbia residents nearly a year and a half to come up with a plan to change the way the unincorporated town is governed. Many more months will pass before any of those changes are implemented - if they ever are, Columbia Council members said after receiving the Columbia Association Governance Structure Committee's 46-page report March 14.

"It's not going to just happen," said Councilman Tom O'Connor of Dorsey's Search, who once served on the committee and predicted that any changes would take two to three years. Council Chairman Lanny Morrison said legal opinions and input from Columbia's 10 villages would be needed before any changes are made. He said nothing is likely to happen before council elections at the end of next month.

Md. budget cuts may doom bond funding for county

If recession-driven budget cuts eliminate state bond money normally distributed among Maryland's counties, Howard won't get $1.4 million it wants for three high-priority projects - a new police-fire training facility, Circuit Court renovations and restoration of the mansion house at Blandair, the county's new 300-acre park in Columbia.

In addition, Howard County Executive James N. Robey asked for $1 million in bond funding to help a Columbia-based acupuncture school move to a larger campus.

A decision on the $15 million in proposed state aid to counties is expected soon. State Senate budget writers voted not to distribute it, while House leaders disagree, so a conference committee might be needed before the 90-day General Assembly session ends.

Howard in light rail plan, but route is criticized

Howard County was added to Baltimore's proposed rail transit future Tuesday at a downtown meeting, but a suggested Howard light rail route immediately drew criticism.

The move came at a meeting of the Baltimore Regional Rail Plan Advisory Committee, which also recommended that the state move forward with an east-west rail line between Fells Point and the Social Security Administration in Woodlawn. In addition, it urged an extension of the current subway system, taking it north from Johns Hopkins Hospital to Morgan State University.

Both projects are part of a blueprint unveiled in January. Eventually, several rail lines extending in all directions from downtown would reach outlying points, including Arundel Mills mall, Towson and White Marsh.

Howard County Executive James N. Robey said he wants a rail link to Howard, but suggested in a letter to state officials that they might want to take longer than the 20 to 40 years called for in the plan.

Worthington Elementary soil safe, experts say

So much confusing information has been disseminated about the safety of the soil at Worthington Elementary School that County Executive James N. Robey felt it necessary Wednesday night to convene a panel of health and safety experts to deliver what he said he hopes will be the final word on the matter.

Worthington, he said, is safe. "It's time to put away the rumors, the extremes on both ends and talk about the facts," Robey said.

"We found no significant health risk," said John O'Hara, chief of the Bureau of Environmental Services in the county Department of Public Works.

"This isn't even on the radar screen," said Karl Kalbacher, environmental program administrator at the state Department of the Environment. "This is a safe site. This is a safe school. And you should not be worried."

Co-sponsor Schrader helps kill abortion measure

Howard County state Sen. Sandra B. Schrader helped kill a bill regulating abortion Wednesday, ending a month of partisan bickering over the measure, which she co-sponsored.

The bill, which would have imposed an 18-hour waiting period on women seeking abortions, died on a 6-5 committee vote. Schrader, one of three Republicans on the committee, voted to kill the bill, committee staffers said.

Democrats had accused Schrader, who was appointed recently to the seat after former Sen. Martin G. Madden's resignation in January, of either being careless or trying to waffle on her pro-choice stance by allowing herself to be a co-sponsor.

School board approves Pointers Run redistricting

More than 200 children will move to a different elementary school next year to free up space at Pointers Run - Howard County's most crowded elementary school.

After three weeks of work, the Board of Education approved Thursday night a redistricting plan that will disperse pupils among three schools: Pointers Run, and nearby Clarksville and Longfellow elementary schools.

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