Howard Week

December 28, 2003

Draft budgets call for 10-cent cut in CA assessment rate

The Columbia Association has released drafts of its 2005 and 2006 capital and operating budgets, which include reducing the annual property assessment rate by a dime.

The budgets, which were given to the association board of directors Dec. 18, call for the rate - which is based on property values and is now 73 cents per $100 of valuation assessed on 50 percent of the fair market value - to be dropped to 63 cents.

The board is scheduled to approve the 2005 budget in February. If the new assessment rate is passed, a homeowner with a house valued at $250,000 would pay the association $787, compared with $912 under the current charge.

Appeals court must hear preserved-land-use case

A Howard Circuit Court judge has ruled that the county's Board of Appeals erroneously dismissed a case that challenged the permitted uses on preserved farmland across Maryland.

The five appointed members of the board will consider the request of Mark, Mike and Steve Mullinix to lease a small part of their 203-acre Dayton farm to a landscaping contractor - considered a commercial business and therefore prohibited on land in the state's agricultural land protection program.

But the brothers say that farms themselves are commercial and that renting to the contractor makes it affordable for them to continue to raise grain and beef cattle on about 1,600 acres they lease and own across the county.

Bills to seek clarification of Open Meetings Act

Bills will be introduced in both houses of the Maryland General Assembly next year to clarify the state's Open Meetings Act and sidestep a Circuit Court ruling that narrowed those who could take legal action to enforce the law.

The legislation would make it clear that anybody could sue for violations of the open meetings law. It addresses an issue that arose in Howard County, where a judge ruled this year that only those who could show that they were "affected adversely" by an improperly closed meeting could take legal action.

"Every member of the public has a stake in having the public's business done in the open," said Sen. Brian E. Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat. Frosh plans to file a bill in the Senate that mirrors a measure pre-filed by Del. Elizabeth Bobo, a Howard County Democrat.

High schools fall short of mandated class time

Howard County high schools routinely fall short of state-mandated class time by more than a week, largely because of the number of half-days included in the school year.

A Sun analysis shows that Howard's high schools will be 42 hours short of the requirement this year and in 2004-2005 if a proposal for next year's calendar is adopted.

The time shortage has been an annual problem that went unnoticed by the Maryland State Department of Education because Howard reports an extra 15 minutes in each school day, schools spokeswoman Patti Caplan said.

William Cappe, a school outreach specialist for the Maryland State Department of Education, said he will investigate the matter.

Metzler's to close in June; houses planned for site

Shoppers will have fewer options in Columbia next holiday season for purchasing poinsettias, Christmas trees, ornaments and other decorations - Metzler's Garden Center & Florist in Hickory Ridge village has announced it will close in June.

Owners John and Dotty Metzler said they are working with developer Williamsburg Group LLC to sell the Columbia branch of the family-owned garden center, ending an era for the nearly 40-year-old community institution that pre-dates Columbia.

The developer has submitted plans to the Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning to build 12 single-family houses. If the proposal is approved, construction will begin in summer 2005 on the 6.8-acre property, John Metzler said.

Columbia man, 35, pleads guilty in sexual assault

A 35-year-old Columbia man accused of sexually assaulting a 5-year-old girl while her older brother used the man's gear to fish at Jackson Pond last summer pleaded guilty Tuesday to a third-degree sexual offense.

In return for Miguel Ramos' plea, Howard prosecutors said they would limit their request for active jail time to five years. Ramos' sentencing before Howard Circuit Judge James B. Dudley is scheduled for Feb. 9.

On a day set aside for arguments on motions filed in the case, Ramos, a Salvadoran immigrant with five children in his native country, agreed to admit involvement in the assault July 27 and told Dudley through an interpreter that his incarceration had been a hardship on his family.

152 deer killed in 5 parks in expanded county hunt

Hunters have killed 152 deer from five county parks this fall, including 31 from Blandair Park in central Columbia, where the hunt is crucial to growing crops, farmer Mike Mullinix said.

"It's probably the difference between us farming it and not farming it," Mullinix said of the fields along Route 175 that he rents to grow corn. During the summer, he said, the deer are so bold that "they graze like cattle," even during the day while he's working. Deer ate 25 percent of his crop, meaning he just broke even - all too common in farming, he said. Only bow hunting is allowed in the park, which is near homes.

Animal lovers weren't impressed, however.

"With the addition of bow hunting and crossbow hunting, we are convinced now more than ever the county is catering to people who hunt purely for pleasure. Our group will never understand how people can derive any enjoyment out of killing a living creature," said Ann Selnick, president of Animal Advocates of Howard County.

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