Howard Week

November 02, 2003

Widening Route 32 estimated to cost $200 million

State transportation officials have put a $200 million price tag on widening nine miles of Route 32 to Howard's rural west, reviving hopes that the project, which has lain dormant for nearly a decade, may go forward.

County Executive James N. Robey and members of the state delegation said the work on Route 32, designed to ease congestion on the road where it narrows to two lanes between Route 108 and Interstate 70, was expensive. But they agreed that it has to be done.

The widening project "is one of the most critical needs we have," Robey said.

County closes waiting list for housing vouchers

Besieged by 2,800 low-income families seeking help with their rent, Howard County's Housing Commission has voted to close the waiting list for federal Section 8 housing vouchers for the first time in 15 years.

Leonard S. Vaughan, the county housing director, said the county has not received new housing vouchers for the past four years and current certificates are turning over very slowly as the waiting list lengthens. "We'll probably be closing the list for at least six months," he said.

Vaughan said he closed the list for 30 days based on the commission's vote Oct. 21, pending a public hearing and final commission vote before the next monthly meeting, Nov. 18.

School racism rampant, teens assert at forum

Racism is rampant in the Howard County public school system, teens from nine of the county's 11 high schools told education officials Monday night during a forum organized by Rep. Elijah E. Cummings to offer students a chance to air their grievances and suggest solutions.

Over and over, black students stood up to say they were given minimal encouragement from some teachers, shown few role models, steered away from advanced classes and were generally considered lesser than their white counterparts.

School board members acknowledged that some staff members needed more training to erase stereotypes that certain children can't succeed and pledged to provide it. They also asked that the student speakers and the 100 or so people in the largely black audience at Wilde Lake High School in Columbia recognize that many efforts are under way to improve the performance of all children.

County officials seek to document homeless

Searching under highway bridges, in empty houses, at old motels and even in the closed Enchanted Forest's overgrown grounds, teams of Howard County officials sought the homeless last month - the start of a campaign to document and begin whittling away the chronic problem.

"I think that a lot of people aren't aware that there is a homelessness problem," in the county, said Linda Zumbrun, assistant director for special projects of the Howard's Department of Social Services.

The search was the first official attempt to document the homeless in the county, which is now required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as part of a national effort to end chronic homelessness, Zumbrun said.

Howard fails to get grant for adult drug court

Howard County's bid to start an adult drug court in District Court will have to do without a hoped-for $500,000 jump-start from a federal grant program.

Howard was not among the 49 court systems and jurisdictions nationwide, including Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties, that recently learned they would receive start-up money for intensive, rehabilitation-focused courts for offenders charged with drug-related crimes, federal officials said last week.

The Drug Court Discretionary Grant Program handed out 76 grants this year, some to support older drug courts, and attracted 353 applicants - a 20 percent increase from last year, federal officials said.

Animal control gets nod on exotic-pets decisions

Howard County's animal control, not the Board of Appeals, should decide when a private wildlife shelter in Woodstock must remove its exotic pets, the board has ruled.

The five appointed board members voted unanimously Tuesday to remove language from an order that gave Frisky's Wildlife and Primate Sanctuary four years to find new homes for its 28 monkeys.

Shelter manager Colleen Layton listened to board members deliberate with Peggy Stover-Catha, a Frisky's director. But Layton has not decided whether to appeal the decision.

A consultant suggests crisis center solution

The puzzle of how to overcome opposition to building a consolidated crisis center in Howard County has at least 10 pieces, according to a report by Marion Cox, a mediation consultant hired to help solve the dilemma.

In the 18-page report, Cox outlined her findings and suggested the 10-step regimen - a plan County Councilman Ken Ulman said likely would take at least another year.

"I think it's a real good framework, but the hard work is still ahead of us. I think there was an acknowledgment that the process just didn't work," said Ulman, a west Columbia Democrat who is the County Council's liaison with Cox. The mediator was hired in March.

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