Howard Week

October 05, 2003

CA to study lowering assessment rate as much as 20 cents

The Columbia Association will begin studying the economic effects of lowering the assessment rate as much as 20 cents, to 53 cents, to ease homeowners' burdens from sharply rising home values.

The annual assessment charge, which is based on property values, is 73 cents per $100 of valuation assessed on 50 percent of the fair market value. On Sept. 25, the association staff told the association board that if the rate was lowered to 71 cents, the association probably would be debt-free by 2015. The association has a long-term debt of $78.2 million.

Joel Pearlman of Kings Contrivance called the 2-cent drop an "insult."

Judge rules against group opposed to high school site

Construction of Howard County's 12th high school, which has been delayed by legal appeals, has cleared a major hurdle after an administrative law judge ruled that a community group did not have legal standing to complain in court about potential waste-discharge effects.

In a 25-page opinion issued Sept. 26 and mailed to parties last weekend, Judge Yvette N. Diamond wrote that the group as an entity does not possess the property interests necessary to claim a grievance - even though the residents in the group, known as the Citizens for Adequate School Facilities, likely do.

"It's really, really frustrating that we got held up on just a technical issue," said Chuck T. Lacey, who has led Marriottsville community efforts to find a new high school site. Residents say the proposed site is inadequate and possibly dangerous.

Income tax revenues drop for first time in Howard

Howard County is among the nation's wealthiest places, but for the first time in its history, income tax revenues sustained an absolute decline last year, county budget officials said Tuesday.

Raymond S. Wacks, the budget director, said falling tax revenues, the first since the county began collecting income taxes in 1964, hit the state's most prosperous counties hardest mainly because of unexpectedly heavy stock market losses.

The 6.1 percent drop in revenues left a $10 million hole in the Howard County budget for the year that ended June 30, county officials announced Tuesday as the school board began reviewing a record request for school construction money for 2004- 2005 that is more than double this fiscal year's amount.

Lease problem may force Rouse Co. to move

The Rouse Co., which built Columbia, and whose headquarters is a centerpiece of the planned community's downtown, may be leaving its lakefront location after failing to renew its lease - a possibility that has local leaders in shock.

The company has been a dominant presence for more than 30 years, operating out of its large white building on Lake Kittamaqundi. Rouse has leased the space since 1974 but is fighting with its landlord about whether the contract was renewed properly. A Baltimore County judge's recent ruling that the company's lease will end March 31 has left community leaders hoping that Rouse will not leave town.

It has leased its headquarters from American Real Estate Limited Partnership for an annual rate of nearly $750,000. The development company had the option to renew the lease for three successive 10-year terms at $320,000 a year and was required to notify its landlord that it planned to renew by Dec. 31. But Rouse did not send notice about renewing the lease until March, a complaint said.

Open-meetings challenge may go to Md. high court

An Ellicott City lawyer said Wednesday that he will ask Maryland's highest court to overturn a Howard County judge's ruling that limits legal challenges under the state open-meetings law.

The ruling in August - that citizens cannot sue under the law unless they have suffered specific damages - has the news media and some members of the public in an uproar. They fear it would make open-government laws unenforceable.

The Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association plans to file a joint motion as soon as today, requesting permission to intervene in the case, said Executive Director Jim Donahue. The motion, filed on behalf of 12 newspapers, including The Sun, seeks to submit a "friend of the court" brief in lawyer Allen Dyer's appeal stressing the importance of the public's role in enforcing the Open Meetings Act.

Howard High added to struggling-schools list

Howard High School has been added to a list of struggling schools selected for intervention by the county Department of Education because of inadequate student performance.

"When you compare Howard's data with the rest of the county, [it is apparent] we have to provide additional resources," said Roger Plunkett, assistant superintendent for administration.

The Ellicott City high school did not make the progress last year that system officials had hoped to see in various areas, such as having a higher percentage of students taking advanced-placement courses and raising test scores of special education students, Plunkett said.

Title searchers want alternative site for records

Howard County's title searchers want the county executive to find a closer, more convenient alternative to a plan to move local land records from the Circuit Courthouse to a Howard-owned building five miles away.

In a letter sent to County Executive James N. Robey last week, the searchers insisted that the county does not need to split the documents they use daily between two distant buildings to solve the problems that have troubled Clerk of the Circuit Court Margaret Rappaport's offices.

Rappaport made the announcement in July about the move to the county-owned Dorsey building on Bendix Road.

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