Howard Week

April 18, 2004

No refunds on levy from FY 2003, CA board decides

Rising property assessments in Columbia resulted in an additional $541,000 in annual-charge payments to the Columbia Association for fiscal year 2003, but property owners won't get any of that money back.

Refunds from annual-charge payments - which are based on property assessments - could have ranged from $14 to $71 per household, but a Columbia Association board majority decided April 8 that the refunds would not have been significant enough to satisfy homeowners. Board members also expressed concern that the amounts were too small to justify the expense of funding and distributing them.

Federal funds OK'd to help ease traffic on U.S. 29

The daily northbound commuter backup on U.S. 29 near Columbia won't likely ease until a third lane is completed in roughly four years, but $11 million in federal money will help, officials said.

Congress has approved two versions of a five-year federal transportation bill that is expected to funnel $15.6 million in federal funds to Howard County to help pay the estimated $250 million cost for widening U.S. 29 and Route 32. The funds will also help cover the $10 million price tag for a new bus maintenance facility to be shared with Anne Arundel County.

The U.S. House of Representatives approved a $275 billion package this month, smaller than the $318 billion the Senate passed in February, so a conference committee will have to make them match. President Bush must also sign the transportation bill for it to become law. But U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Democrat and member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee who also represents much of Howard County, said the money for local projects should not be affected.

Columbia assessment cap, higher new-home tax likely

Howard County residents would see higher taxes on new homes, a 10 percent annual cap on increases in Columbia's property charges and an expanded school board as a result of the General Assembly session.

The Senate unanimously approved the mandatory 10 percent ceiling on property assessments in Columbia on April 10, granting financial relief to the planned community's residents. The excise tax passed the Senate the same day, 42-2.

The Columbia legislation is effective June 1, and bills that the Columbia Association is to send out in July for its annual charge - which is based on property values - should reflect the 10 percent cap. The legislation would also phase in assessment increases over three years and is retroactive, giving east Columbia residents a credit for sharply higher charges they paid last year.

The new-home excise tax was overwhelmingly enacted April 10 by the Senate, meaning that with Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s signature, the $1 per-square-foot surcharge for school construction would take effect July 1.

The school board bill would expand the current five-member board to seven members, starting in 2006.

Two families win right to buy renovated homes

A single mother of two children and a family of five won the right Tuesday to buy the first two renovated older homes offered under Howard County's moderate-income housing program.

The drawing took place in County Council chambers in Ellicott City, although none of the dozen contestants was there to witness the names plucked by county officials from among 12 envelopes in a gold-colored cylinder.

"I'm going to pray and thank God," Sarena Goodwin said after learning her name was chosen to buy one of the $132,000, three-bedrooms homes in the 8400 block Frederick Road in Ellicott City's historic district.

The 100-year-old Frederick Road duplex represents the county's first attempt at including renovated older houses in its moderate-income housing program.

Under the bill approved by the County Council in December, a contractor who spends at least $50,000 renovating an older home can qualify for a certificate declaring the residence a moderate-income unit. The contractor may sell the home through the county at a reduced price and then sell the certificate to another builder.

Limits sought on locations of methadone clinics

Instead of writing a restrictive new law, Howard County Councilman David A. Rakes wants to try an informal, voluntary approach to steer private methadone clinics to locations that won't spark neighborhood uproars, he said last week.

"Legislation would be a second choice right now," Rakes said before meeting with two local state legislators who plan to explore drafting a statewide regulatory bill in January.

Attempts to keep clinics at least 1,000 feet from homes, schools or churches foundered this year on the legal shoals of federal anti-discrimination laws. That sent Rakes, Sen. Sandra B. Schrader and Del. Neil F. Quinter back to the drawing board.

Quinter said he hopes to have a bill that could restrict the location of clinics defined as a "significant risk to the community."

Projectiles strike vehicles along a stretch of I-95

Five motorists had their automobile windows cracked or shattered over the past two weeks by an unknown projectile while driving on Interstate 95 in Howard County, with the latest incident occurring Thursday morning during rush-hour, authorities said.

None of the drivers was injured.

The incidents, which are under investigtion, have occurred along a four-mile stretch of I-95, between Route 32 and Route 100, in the northbound and southbound lanes, said Cpl. Rob Moroney, a state police spokesman.

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