Howard Week

February 23, 2003

Residents dig out, only to have to wait for snowplows

Neighbors joined forces to shovel out cars, driveways and cul-de-sacs across Howard County after last week's snowstorm, but some had little choice but to go back inside because the streets beyond were still snowy white and unplowed.

Local officials continued to sift through the fallout from the storm, from impassable side streets to caved-in barns to a ruined bubble that - until shortly before midnight Sunday - had covered five tennis courts in Columbia.

County road crews expected to have all residential streets cleared by late Wednesday, said Alan Ferragamo, deputy public works director, who spent Wednesday in the county's Emergency Operations Center. Residents who spent days shoveling their way to nothing but more snow were "getting antsy" waiting for a plow to clear their streets, he added.

Columbia's open space is a problem for police

When an emergency or crime is happening in Columbia's open space, there's one significant problem - none of it has an address. That can make it difficult for a police officer to find a specific location along the city's nearly 90 miles of pathways.

The Columbia Association wants to make the process easier by numbering each of the town's more than 160 tot lots along the pathways - indicated by a sign posted at the playgrounds - and coordinating with the county police through a global positioning system program that would show each location.

The homeowners association's board of directors has agreed to add $20,000 to the proposed fiscal year 2004 budget for the project. The board approved the budget Wednesday, and the project could be completed by April 2004.

Cedar Lane school threatened by rule

Cedar Lane, a school in Columbia beloved by parents as a haven for Howard County's most severely disabled students, could be closed some day soon because of a federal mandate that requires the disabled to be educated as much as possible with other students.

This federal education rule threatens a number of special-purpose schools in the Baltimore area, educators say. Parents of the 115 students at Cedar Lane were warned in a letter - sent by school administrators to the school's PTA president the week of Feb. 9 - asserting that state and federal requirements no longer allow for separate buildings for students with disabilities.

The letter said the county needed to come up with a plan "to educate students with multiple intense needs who have previously been served at Cedar Lane."

Columbia Council stipends not in budget

The Columbia Association's board of directors decided to not include $5,000 stipends for board members in the fiscal 2004 budget.

The stipends, proposed by board member Kirk Halpin of Kings Contrivance, were intended to encourage more residents to run for the 10-member Columbia Council, which also acts as the board for the 95,000-resident homeowners group.

The volunteer board has never been paid. Under the proposal, members would receive the money if they attended at least 80 percent of the required meetings from start to end.

Howard legislators delay action on transfer tax

Acrimony over a proposal to fund $215 million in school construction with an increase in the county's real estate transfer tax rose to the surface Wednesday in Annapolis, as members of the county's legislative delegation again postponed a final vote on the plan.

House delegation chairman Del. Frank S. Turner, a Democrat who supports the proposal, first asked the county state senators, who oppose the tax increase, if they have a better plan. "In the letters I get, people don't want higher income tax or property tax," he said.

During a break, Turner said the three senators, who two weeks ago said they opposed the bill proposed by County Executive James N. Robey, "just don't want to show any leadership."

French speaks against open-meetings effort

Howard County Board of Education Chairman Sandra H. French pleaded Wednesday with members of the Maryland House Ways and Means Committee in Annapolis to oppose a bill that would make all of the board's meetings subject to the state's Open Meetings Act.

French said that conducting all business under the watchful eyes of the press and public would make it impossible to protect the privacy of some employees and students.

But Del. Elizabeth Bobo, the Howard County Democrat who first asked for the drafting of the bill, disagrees. Bobo said the Howard County Board of Education singled itself out by approaching her more than a year ago, asking for clarification of local and state sunshine laws that the attorney general's office has said appear to conflict.

"The board wanted us to make it easier for them to go into closed meetings," Bobo said. "We chose to go in the other direction. They just don't seem to get the meaning of open government."

Golf course renewal tops Columbia budget

The Columbia Association's board of directors voted Wednesday night to spend nearly $900,000 refurbishing Hobbit's Glen Golf Club, including the rebuilding of 16 greens, replacing grass on four and renovating the course clubhouse.

The course will be closed in August and is expected to reopen in May 2004, depending on the weather. The golf course work was included in a capital budget for the association's 2004 fiscal year beginning this May, which included a total of $7.8 million in spending on projects ranging from repairs for Historic Oakland, the manor house in Town Center, to renewal of a number of village center buildings.

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