Howard Week

October 19, 2003

Fund would help middle-class families own their homes

Sharply rising prices have made home ownership a much tougher goal for middle-income families in Howard County, but county officials are moving to create a $500,000 fund to bring houses within reach of as many as 20 more families a year.

The Social Investment Partnership Fund is in the planning stages, said Leonard S. Vaughan, the county housing director. The county's Housing and Community Development Board approved the concept at a meeting Oct. 9.

Vaughan noted that Howard's median income is $67,300, meaning that half the county's residents make less than that. House prices have been rising by double-digit percentages over the past several years, and the average home in Howard hovers around the $300,000 mark.

Columbia Council looks at assessment fee options

If the Columbia Association assessment rate were lowered by 20 cents - in an attempt to financially help homeowners with skyrocketing property values - the homeowners association would have a debt of $92 million by 2013, according to association staff.

But if the annual charge, which is based on property values, is kept at its current rate - 73 cents per $100 of valuation assessed on 50 percent of the fair market value - the association would have a debt of $12.9 million, association staff told the Columbia Council on Oct. 9.

The council and staff have been studying alternatives to the current assessment rate after an outcry from homeowners in east Columbia, where homes increased in value an average of 33.4 percent after the state reassessed property there last year. Next year, homeowners in west Columbia will receive bills with reassessed property values.

Plans for renovations for Food Lion uncertain

More than nine months after Food Lion announced it would take up operations in Oakland Mills Village Center, replacing a Metro Food Market that has been a dark hole in the center for two years, the grocer has yet to begin renovations.

Plans for the 42,000- square-foot store were stalled because of problems with the lease, a Food Lion spokeswoman said, and although the company expects the store to open next year, the spokeswoman said she did not know when renovations could begin.

"The lease assignment has just been completed on that store. That took longer than expected," said Tammie McGee, a corporate communications specialist at the retailer, which is based in North Carolina. "We're in pre-construction stage. It looks to be into 2004" for completion.

Councilmen criticize cuts in school budget

The Howard County Board of Education cut too deeply when it slashed $35 million from the school superintendent's proposed capital budget, say two county councilmen who want to restore $12.6 million worth of projects.

"I think they're responding to what they see as financial realities out there, but I think at the moment we're still at a place and a time where we can maintain a little more flexibility," council Chairman Guy Guzzone said Monday. Councilman Ken Ulman also criticized the cuts.

The school board stands behind its decision Oct. 9 to cut nearly $35 million from Superintendent John R. O'Rourke's $149.8 million request, crediting the trims with producing a well-justified document.

Bethesda company to run Merriweather Post

Merriweather Post Pavilion, the struggling Columbia concert amphitheater faced with an uncertain future because of plans to develop adjacent land, will be managed next year by Bethesda-based I.M.P. Inc.

The Rouse Co., which owns Merriweather, hired I.M.P. to manage the amphitheater for the 2004 season, replacing Clear Channel Entertainment Inc. I.M.P. also owns the 9:30 Club in Washington.

The amphitheater's future had been in question, as Rouse is seeking approval to proceed with residential, commercial and office development in the area surrounding Merriweather.

Some Howard High parents disappointed with meeting

Almost 100 anxious parents gathered at Howard High on Tuesday night to find out what is being done to help the Ellicott City school, which was recently added to the county school system's improvement unit because of inadequate progress on academic goals. But they left with more questions than answers.

"I did not hear what I came to hear tonight," said Howard High PTSA President Jerry Bialecki. "I came here to hear and understand what resources the school would be given and all about the plan" for improvement.

Bialecki, along with dozens of other parents, was frustrated when Mary Day, who as principal has borne the brunt of school criticism, cut a question session short to usher people into another room for refreshments and to get their ideas on how the school should proceed.

Reduction in term denied in death of 15-month-old

In the 2 1/2 years since former North Laurel day care provider Kathleen A. Butcher was convicted of killing a 15-month-old girl in her care, her family has "deteriorated," Butcher's attorney said Wednesday.

Two of her five children have refused to visit her in prison, one has become a "very bossy and aggressive" mother figure to her siblings and the youngest, a 2-year-old girl born after Butcher was incarcerated, calls another woman "Mama," attorney William C. Brennan Jr. said. The eldest, an 11-year-old boy, is withdrawn and depressed, he said.

But Howard Circuit Judge Raymond J. Kane Jr. said that although he does not doubt that Butcher's children are suffering, the sentence was "appropriate" and will stand. Butcher was sentenced to 10 years in prison for involuntary manslaughter and child abuse in the death of Alexa Shearer in November 1999.

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