Howard Week

January 11, 2004

Federal grant helps county plan start of adult drug court

Howard County officials are moving forward with plans to start a scaled-back version of an adult drug court in Howard District Court, thanks to more than $40,000 in federal block grant funds.

The money will enable the county to pay the part-time salaries of a clinical case manager and a drug court coordinator -- jobs that will allow the new court to handle a limited caseload of 10 to 15 defendants, starting in June, said Howard District Judge Louis A. Becker III, a member of the planning team.

Although not nearly enough to fund a full-scale drug court, the grant can help the county solve problems in its program on a small scale before any expansion, officials said.

Popular Columbia pub closes down suddenly

Columbia's Last Chance Saloon, a 23-year-old neighborhood pub that was a gathering place for longtime residents and evoked the planned town's early spirit, has suddenly closed, leaving another empty store in the troubled Oakland Mills Village Center.

"It's really sad. It's kind of an icon," said Oakland Mills Village manager Sandy Cederbaum.

A hand-lettered sign taped to the front door announced the restaurant-bar "closed for remodeling" as of Jan. 3, but Paul and Kathryn Sullivan, the licensees, gave no warning and aren't likely to re-open, the building's landlord said.

Zoning board approves apartments for seniors

New zoning to allow construction of 96 apartments for seniors at the beleaguered Oakland Mills Village Center was approved Monday night by the Howard County Zoning Board.

The 5-0 vote represented an attempt to rejuvenate the east Columbia village and is preliminary to a vote scheduled for this month on zoning changes to allow 1,991 more new housing units to be built in the planned town -- mostly in Town Center.

The Oakland Mills zoning change considered Monday night, which would allow a total of 150 more units, was separated from the rest of the contested Rouse Co. proposal "because that [senior housing] project has strong support from the Oakland Mills Village Board, had a developer and was ready to move forward," said Ken Ulman, chairman of the Zoning Board.

Columbia Council conflicts discussed at meeting

Perceived conflicts arising from the dual roles of Columbia Council members, who also act as board members of the Columbia Association, were discussed Tuesday night in a meeting attended by several dozen residents.

The session was arranged by Councilwoman Barbara Russell, who believes that council members cannot adequately represent their constituents if, as board members, they are primarily supposed to serve the Columbia Association.

Russell, who represents Oakland Mills on the council and the board, said board members are told, "We must first and foremost think of our role of serving the corporation." Russell said she is becoming "more and more uncomfortable with the information I cannot share."

Rising home values costing owners dearly

Home values in west Columbia have skyrocketed an average of 47.4 percent past over three years, hitting homeowners harder than in east Columbia, where many residents are still riled about their recent increase in home values.

The upsurge -- which is 14 percentage points higher than east Columbia's increase -- will be another factor for the Columbia Association board of directors to consider as it sets the assessment rate, which is based on property values, for the 2005 and 2006 budgets.

To address the rising property values, the board has included a 10-cent reduction in the assessment rate in the proposed 2005 and 2006 budgets. The decrease would result in a rate of 63 cents for each $100 of valuation assessed on 50 percent of the fair market value.

O'Rourke requests record schools budget

Howard County schools Superintendent John R. O'Rourke presented a record-breaking operating budget request Thursday night during a board meeting that would delay his plan to begin phasing in state-mandated all-day kindergarten, causing a backlash from school board members and a county delegate.

"I'm recommending deferring the first-year phase because it's just a very tight year," said O'Rourke, who estimated it would cost $3.1 million to lengthen half-day kindergarten programs at 10 schools in August as he had promised.

The operating budget request O'Rourke gave the board Thursday, which would affect funding in the fiscal year that begins in July, asks for $480.7 million -- a 14 percent increase over the current operating budget of $421.3 million.

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