Howard Week

April 27, 2003

Robey proposes raising income tax rate to the limit

Howard County's income tax rate would jump from Maryland's third-lowest to the legal limit and county workers could get a 4 percent pay raise in the $892.4 million budget proposed Monday by County Executive James N. Robey.

Robey's plan represents the largest tax increase requested in any of Maryland's seven largest jurisdictions. A family with the county's median gross household income of $83,100 would pay $521 more a year if the increase is approved by the County Council.

Combined with a state property tax increase, rising assessments and higher lien fees for Columbia residents, the total tax bill could jump by more than $1,000 for many Howard County families.

Rouse Co. donates $350,000 to HCC

Fund raising for Howard Community College's planned arts and humanities building has received a boost with a $350,000 donation from the Rouse Co., one of the largest gifts that company has given to a community institution.

"I'm really delighted the Rouse Co. saw the importance of the arts and humanities building," said Roger N. Caplan, chairman of the college board of trustees. In addition to helping support a large demand for arts classes among students, he said of the building, "I envision it to be a gathering place for the community."

Builders are expected to break ground for the structure in the fall. The building is to feature performance halls, classroom space and state-of-the-art equipment for visual and performing arts, with an eye toward a grand opening in 2005.

Council hears debate over senior housing

Tensions over development in a maturing Howard County highlighted debate on a bill to change the rules for building new homes for the fast-growing senior population at a County Council hearing Monday night.

The bill, sponsored by Ellicott City Republican Christopher J. Merdon, would raise the minimum number of units from 20 to 50 to qualify for Age Restricted Adult Housing, which is allowed as a conditional use in residentially zoned neighborhoods. It is controversial because it would limit where senior communities could be built.

Advocates for seniors fear that approval would mean less housing available, while Merdon's backers say small lots burdened with townhouses could visually hurt older, traditional neighborhoods.

Madden to head critical areas panel

In a move that won praise from environmentalists, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. named former Senate Minority Leader Martin G. Madden on Monday to lead a key commission that oversees development close to the Chesapeake and Maryland's coastal bays.

Madden, a moderate Republican from Howard County, will assume the chairmanship of the Chesapeake Bay Critical Areas Commission on Thursday.

The governor praised Madden's "proven record of leadership on important environmental issues."

12th high school might not be delayed

After weeks of public agitation and private brainstorming, Howard County's proposed 12th high school may be back on track for a 2005 opening instead of the year after, according to county officials.

One of two key problems - the lack of money in the next budget year - could be solved quickly, and at half the earlier advertised price, according to County Council members at a public meeting about the school Tuesday night in Ellicott City.

The other problem - obtaining a crucial state environmental permit - is less certain, Deputy School Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin said. That was emphasized at Tuesday night's meeting by David Fairchild, who with a small group of people living near the proposed school site across from Mount View Middle School in West Friendship oppose building there.

O'Rourke delivers `bad news' to board

If the Howard County Council can't cough up the millions sliced from the school board's operating budget request for the next fiscal year, dozens of teaching positions could go unfilled, class sizes could get larger and school staff may not get promised raises.

"This is the bad news," schools Superintendent John R. O'Rourke told Board of Education members during a meeting Thursday night, "and some of it is very, very bad."

O'Rourke stood before the board, forced to introduce 141 cuts and two resulting additions to the budget he largely developed, all in an effort to make up for funding losses at the state and county levels.

Safety leaders support building training center

A parade of public safety leaders testified Thursday night that Howard County badly needs a proposed police and firefighter training center, but their arguments favoring the facility seemed a hard sell for the County Council's two Republicans, who repeatedly asked doubtful questions.

The public hearing on next year's proposed capital budget drew nearly 100 people. A series of similar hearings is scheduled on the operating budget Thursday and May 3. The council is to vote on new budgets for next fiscal year May 23.

Despite the war in Iraq, threats of terrorism and the SARS disease, County Executive James N. Robey is having a tough time garnering unanimous support for the county's first public safety training center he has long wanted to build.

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