Howard Week

March 16, 2003

Large increases in taxes possible, Robey says

Howard County's budget crunch means potentially big increases in both local income taxes and property taxes, County Executive James N. Robey says.

In his first statement outlining the county's fiscal problem using detailed figures, he used terms such as "crippling blows" to describe holes punched in revenues by state budget cuts, lower investment income and fewer surplus dollars. "Spending requests are almost $50.25 million more than our anticipated revenue," not counting more rumored state budget cuts, he said in a statement.

Just to meet built-in, fixed-cost increases, Robey said that the income tax rate would have to rise from the current 2.45 percent to the legal limit of 3.20 percent, and property taxes must increase 10.25 cents from $1.044 per $100 of assessed value.

More parents choosing to stay at home

Linda Lagala-Spano switched careers seven years ago. Now she manages three people: Her kids.

In Howard County, staying at home is something many parents still do. The large share of two-income families in Howard has helped make the county one of the wealthiest places in the nation - and an expensive place to live even with a pair of salaries.

But something unusual is happening in Howard: More and more moms and dads are opting for home. The stay-at-home parents are typically college-educated with a career under way, and quite a few approach their new lifestyle with all the zeal of a recent hire.

Environmental friendliness is goal of planned center

An old farmhouse-turned-lumberyard on Route 175 in Jessup soon will become a local showcase for environmental friendliness and an incubator for green company start-ups, if Stanley Sersen has his way.

The president of Architectural Support Group Inc., a Glen Burnie company that helps builders incorporate solar panels and windmills to condominiums and apartments, plans to transform the aged brown and yellow eyesore into an office, resource center and educational facility for companies involved in building more environmentally friendly structures and recycling building materials.

The Environmental Design Resource Center will incorporate a number of features, including a facility to manufacture and sell a diesel fuel made from used vegetable oil, underwater tanks to collect and disperse rain runoff and windmill-generated backup batteries.

Council might permit high-priced development

For those who think new homes pop up as freely as spring daisies in Howard County, consider Triadelphia Meadows, a proposed 29-home luxury development sidetracked for 18 months by a simple, well-meant bureaucratic error made nearly two years ago.

The $500,000-plus homes are the subject of an emergency County Council bill introduced March 3 to straighten things out. If it passes, it will retroactively qualify the development to proceed.

Douglas C. Shipe, vice president for Maryland operations of Toll Brothers builders, said work could begin in two more years, when the company's 95-home Triadelphia Ridge project on Howard Road should be finished. A vote is expected next month.

Meeting hears 4 hours of debate on rezoning

A county board looking for a vision of Howard's development future is hearing the same mantra from dozens of people faced with the possibility of commercial operations moving into their communities: No, no, a thousand times no.

"This is the domino effect we are so concerned about," said Cathi Higgins, who is among those against plans to rezone nearly 40 acres along Montgomery Road in Ellicott City to commercial, proposed in large part because Long Gate shopping center was built to the south in the 1990s.

The Planning Board heard four hours of testimony Monday night from people supporting and opposing proposals that are part of the once-a-decade comprehensive rezoning of the county. Landowners have asked for different zones for hundreds of acres of land, potentially affecting thousands of people in most communities. The board will recommend a course of action to the County Council.

Cedar Lane school wins state reprieve

Maryland Superintendent of Schools Nancy S. Grasmick stood before the Howard County delegation Wednesday in Annapolis and announced plans to rebuild Cedar Lane school in Columbia as a state - and potentially national - model for serving severely disabled students.

It was an abrupt about-face from signals her staff had been giving county educators. Until Wednesday, the understood command had been to explore dismantling the much-loved and physically inadequate facility, which educates 115 extremely disabled children and young adults ages 3 to 21, and distribute its students among neighborhood schools.

But protests by parents and politicians prompted the state to take another look at Cedar Lane.

Ellicott City plan reported nearly ready

The long-awaited Ellicott City Master Plan may be completed just in time to be considered in the county's comprehensive rezoning effort this year, the plan's drafters say.

In 2001, Howard County Executive James N. Robey appointed a committee to work on the Ellicott City plan, called for by the 2000 Howard County General Plan.

The group hopes to submit a plan to him early this week rather than submit it to the County Council for legislative approval.

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