Howard Week

March 07, 2004

For Columbians, 10% assessment cap a costly issue

Columbia residents, facing a big jump in annual property charges, could get a break worth hundreds of dollars if state legislators approve a 10 percent ceiling on rising home assessments.

But if legislators reject that plan, no one is sure what will happen. Some Columbia Association directors say the savings could evaporate. Others say the 10 percent annual cap will be put into effect anyway.

For property owners, it is a costly issue.

Under the new rate and annual limit, a 40 percent increase in value on a $200,000 house - to $280,000 - would trigger charges of $748, $822 and $905, phased in over three years.

Without the 10 percent cap, the same homeowner would pay $952 in each of the three years.

The difference: $381 over the three-year period.

Election director's pay may rise, sparking anger

State election officials are prepared to pay Howard County's next election director more than those in Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties - and more than Howard's retiring Robert J. Antonetti Sr. sued his own board to get.

News of the proposed $58,783 salary in Howard has sparked an angry reaction among other local elections officials as they prepared for the state's first all-electronic election Tuesday.

"I'm going to fight for [my pay] to go up," said Barbara Fisher, Anne Arundel County's election director, who makes $52,794 after 27 years on the job. She oversees a county with 284,000 voters, compared with Howard's 157,000.

Pay ranges for county election directors are based on the number of voters. For example, the range for Howard County is $42,453 to $66,022, said Linda H. Lamone, state elections board administrator.

Bus riders lobby against transit cuts

Dora Garza rides the bright-green Howard Transit buses from her home in historic Ellicott City to her job in River Hill every day except Saturday. There is no bus to River Hill on Saturday, so she pays $32 for a round-trip cab ride to her job, cleaning the Columbia Association's athletic club, she said.

It's too much money, the 56-year-old woman said as she left a Howard County Transportation Board meeting last week after hearing that budget woes will force longer waits and reduced bus service, starting March 14.

Garza was one of several riders who came to tell board members that they depend on the bus system. Discovery of a $6.3 million budget error is forcing cutbacks, including to service the county added last summer.

Historian Cramm publishing an update of her book

A local historian renowned for her knowledge and love of Howard County is publishing an update of her first work.

Joetta M. Cramm has completed a 10th chapter for Howard County: A Pictorial History, which shows ways the county has developed since the book was released in 1987. People still call her for copies of the book, which has been reprinted three times. It begins with the first land grants in the early 1700s and chronicles the creation of mills, roads and Columbia.

CA board member's e-mail draws criticism

For the second time this term, some Columbia Association board members are crying foul because a colleague is sending e-mail about board business without specifying that the missives represent only the author's personal views.

Board member Pearl Atkinson-Stewart has written e-mail to Columbia's village boards, the Howard County Council and Howard County's state legislators to lobby the groups to not support state legislation that would limit the association's assessment income.

At least two board members claim Atkinson-Stewart's e-mail contains falsehoods and imply that she is representing the board's views, which she was not authorized to do. "It's gotten to the ridiculous point now," said board Vice Chairman Joshua Feldmark.

4 school board hopefuls advance to general election

Tuesday's primary election spilled well into Wednesday when - 15 hours after polls closed - the last of 98 Howard County precinct reports was accounted for, advancing four Board of Education candidates to vie for two seats in the general election.

Mary Kay Sigaty, whose campaign focused largely on supporting teachers, took the most votes: 11,147, or 18.3 percent.

Diane Mikulis, an Ellicott City parent, came in second with 17 percent of the vote, followed by incumbent board member James P. O'Donnell, who received 13.2 percent. Frank Aquino, an Ellicott City attorney, was fourth, garnering 12.7 percent of the 60,920 votes cast.

Voters could pick as many as two candidates on ballots.

Massage parlor operator has $1 million seized by U.S.

Federal immigration agents have seized more than $1 million from bank accounts belonging to a Howard County massage parlor operator who officials allege ran a prostitution ring using illegal immigrants as sex workers.

Federal affidavits related to the seizure of money from Sung Yul "Peter" Kim, 65, describe a wide-ranging operation that also dealt in bribery, money-laundering, falsified documents and other illegal activities in a bid to drive competitors out of business. Kim has denied the charges.

Kim, who lives in Fort Lee, N.J., is accused of offering to buy 20 fake green cards for illegal immigrants for $300,000 and paying a Howard County police lieutenant working undercover more than $4,000. The police officer was supposed to obtain fake documents and harass other parlor owners in the U.S. 1 corridor, according to federal affidavits used to obtain a warrant for Kim's four bank accounts.

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