Howard Week

March 23, 2003

Robey promises to revive his transfer tax plan

As he ponders borrowing up to $100 million in the coming fiscal year for school construction and other capital projects, Howard County Executive James N. Robey is vowing to revive his failed transfer tax proposal "with a vengeance" next winter.

"I've had so many people from around the state - elected officials, Realtors and business people saying, `Why did this not go forward? It made more sense than anything I've ever heard.' I don't know why, and I'm not going to give up on it," he told six members of his Spending Affordability Committee during a meeting in his Ellicott City office.

The county executive had asked Howard's state legislators in January to increase the local real estate property tax from 1 percent to 1.5 percent so he could use the extra revenue to borrow $215 million for school construction over eight years, then pay off the debt. But the county's General Assembly delegation brushed the idea aside without a vote, though only county Realtors appeared to oppose it.

Panel discusses ways to improve APFO

A panel of Howard County education leaders, developers, activists and public officials met Monday night to discuss ways to improve the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO), a widely criticized law that tries to curb school crowding by slowing housing development.

"I don't even really know if APFO has ever worked," said school board member Courtney Watson. "We have so many schools that are overcrowded."

APFO, among other things, restricts construction for up to four years in areas where schools are projected to be 15 percent or more over capacity three years in the future.

The County Council annually adopts a chart showing areas that are open or closed to development based on APFO.

Funeral home proposal for Highland rejected

In an unusual turn of events that astonished even the people who had hoped it would happen, Highland residents fighting plans for a large funeral home at their small commercial crossroads have won without giving a single minute of testimony.

Howard County's hearing examiner ruled March 14 that the funeral home developer did not prove that the proposal meets local requirements.

It is a joyous moment for residents of this small southern Howard town. The crossroads at Route 108 and Highland Road is their community center, a quaint throwback to a rural past, dotted with businesses such as the Boarman family's country market and the Grey Pony Saddlery.

Open-metings panel exonerates school board

Maryland's Open Meetings Compliance Board has exonerated the Howard County school board of charges that some of its recent meetings violated state sunshine laws.

In an opinion offered in response to complaints from the county's PTA Council, the Compliance Board determined that the Board of Education acted appropriately in discussing and enacting a controversial amendment to school Superintendent John R. O'Rourke's contract in November.

Some county residents, one board member and the 27,000 PTA members had raised a collective cry of foul play over the matter.

Unmetered water billing focus of Annapolis meeting

Proponents of a bill that would end estimated water bills for residents of unmetered apartments in Maryland challenged claims by the bill's opponents that the practice fostered water conservation at a hearing Tuesday before the House of Delegates' Environmental Matters subcommittee.

The bill, introduced by Del. Elizabeth Bobo, a Howard County Democrat, and Del. Mary-Dulany James, a Harford County Democrat, would require landlords who charge separately for water to install meters in each unit by next year to measure exact water use.

Del. John R. Leopold, an Anne Arundel Republican, also signed on as co-sponsor. If the bill becomes law, landlords would have to pay a $1,000 fine for violations.

$20,000 grant might help resolve crisis center debate

Two members of the Howard County Council have stepped into the middle of an intense debate about plans to build a 24-hour crisis center in Howard County with a goal of achieving general agreement on a site.

The center has been looking for a new home for more than two years, with neighborhood protests blocking every prospective location.

County Councilmen Guy Guzzone and Ken Ulman have won a $20,000 grant from the Maryland Mediation and Conflict Resolution Office to hire a facilitator to work with the groups concerned about the crisis center plans.

Would-be rescuer, shelter square off over stray dog

A stray dog found wandering without a collar on U.S. 29 in Columbia has become the unwitting prize in a tug of war between a would-be rescuer and the Howard County Animal Shelter.

The female chow chow found under a car March 8 has been classified not suitable for adoption - a death sentence at the Howard pound. But Corrine Lerman, a Bethesda woman who runs a fund that helps pay spaying costs for pets, said Howard County is being rigid and overly bureaucratic and might kill a dog that could become someone's pet.

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