Howard Week

January 19, 2003

Community colleges face tuition increase, decreasing state aid

Thousands of Maryland students will pay more for their education in the coming school year as community colleges, squeezed between growing enrollment and the likelihood of decreasing state and county aid, are raising their tuition.

Increases of $3 to $6 a credit hour are on their way for in-county students at Howard and Carroll community colleges as well as at the Community College of Baltimore County. Baltimore City Community College tuition could go up as much as $9 a credit hour.

"We hate to do it," said Roger Caplan, president of the board of trustees at Howard Community College, "but everyone has to bear some of the brunt [of difficult economic times]. We understand that."

Columbia Association talks about Hobbit's Glen plans

In the first formal presentation of the Columbia Association's proposed $45.8 million 2004 fiscal budget, residents and village representatives questioned association staff about plans to renovate Hobbit's Glen Golf Club and to increase some facility membership resident rates more than 2 percent.

Before about 30 residents Jan. 9 at Wilde Lake's Slayton House, the staff tried to squelch the perception that the projected $4.4 million surplus - about half of which is coming from higher lien payments from increased home assessments in east Columbia - will be sitting in a pot, waiting to be spent.

Rafia Siddiqui, the association's vice president for administrative services, said the association has a $3.4 million cash shortfall estimated for 2004 because cash flow is estimated to be $11.4 million, but CA needs $14.8 million for capital projects and debt payments. "It's not a true surplus," Siddiqui said. "We're still borrowing."

Highland debates proposed funeral home

The large Colonial funeral home a developer hopes to add to the small country crossroads of Highland would not look out of place because common details of the town's buildings were included, its architect maintained Monday night.

Roughly 60 residents turned out at the same Howard County hearing to offer silent testimony to the contrary. For many of them, the debate over the funeral home is a struggle to save the essence of their community.

In the second night of meetings on the contentious case, the developer's team tried to convince the county's hearing examiner that the approximately 12,000-square-foot plan deserves conditional use permission to allow the funeral home to operate on land zoned for residential use.

Courthouse bond bill killed by legislators

What was supposed to be a routine local approval of a request for state bond money for courthouse renovations turned into a stinging embarrassment Tuesday in Annapolis for Howard County Executive James N. Robey.

With two fellow Democrats leading the way, Howard's state legislators rejected Robey's request for state funding for what court officials believe are badly needed improvements in the crowded, historic Circuit Court building in Ellicott City. Usually, the entire General Assembly takes the blame for killing such local bills, not the locals themselves.

But Robey said he was stunned to learn Tuesday that the request had died - and because of opposition from two members of his own party: state Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, who cast the deciding vote, and Del. Elizabeth Bobo, who articulated the main argument against the request.

Halpin proposes stipend for Columbia Council

Kirk Halpin thinks he may have found an incentive to spur democracy in Columbia - $5,000 for each winner of a seat on the Columbia Council.

In the draft of the Columbia Association's $45.8 million 2004 fiscal budget, Councilman Halpin proposes that each of the 10 council members be awarded $5,000 - the first time the council would be paid in the association's history - if they attend at least 80 percent of the meetings.

Halpin, of Kings Contrivance, said he has been frustrated by the small number of people running for seats on the 10-member council that governs the 95,000-resident homeowners association.

Anti-tobacco statutes reducing sales to teens

After 14 months' enforcement, Howard County's two new laws aimed at reducing the sale of tobacco products to teens appear to be bearing fruit - and fines.

"Just one year after health inspectors hit the street, the percentage of merchants willing to sell tobacco to minors dropped from 50 [percent] to 37 percent," said Mark E. Breaux, president of the Smoke Free Howard County Coalition.

The inspectors focused on enforcing a law that changed the ban on selling tobacco to minors from a criminal to a civil violation that is enforced by the Health Department instead of police. Volunteer county high school students are used to test whether a business will sell to minors, and 37 percent of the 221 businesses inspected sold them tobacco products.

Violators were given citations totaling $24,200, said Shanta Williams, director of tobacco control for the Howard Health Department. The county has collected $18,950 of that total.

Transfer tax increase tops Robey revenue priorities

If Howard County wants to stay on top of Maryland's economic heap, the local government needs more money, starting with a real estate transfer tax increase, County Executive James N. Robey told a packed Chamber of Commerce luncheon in his annual State of the County speech Thursday.

Robey's plan to raise $215 million for school construction by raising home-sale closing costs might be a long shot politically, but the Democratic former police chief tried to narrow the odds a bit by appealing to 280 leaders of the county's business community at a Columbia hotel.

He said the plan is vital to pay for the schools, senior centers and to fix other infrastructure problems.

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