Howard Week

May 30, 2004

$968 million budget for fiscal 2005 OK'd on unanimous vote

A unanimous Howard County Council vote put a $968 million budget in place for fiscal 2005, although fallout from last year's bruising tax fight lurked in the background.

"We have come a long way since last year," east Columbia Democrat David A. Rakes said after the 5-0 vote May 21. "I kept thinking, `Why did I do that to myself?' "

The memory of the struggle over County Executive James N. Robey's 30 percent increase in the income tax rate wasn't any more comforting for Ellicott City Republican Christopher J. Merdon.

"I'm still exhausted from last year," he said in his post-vote remarks. The tax increase passed on a 3-2 party-line vote last year, with the majority Democrats backing Robey.

Harley dealership opens near U.S. 1 in Elkridge

A huge new Harley-Davidson motorcycle dealership atop a hill overlooking U.S. 1 in Elkridge is open for business, its bright orange roof a symbol of the rejuvenation of the old commercial corridor.

The Harley-Davidson of Maryland dealership, which sold more than 500 bikes last year, moved from cramped quarters in the nearby Elkridge Industrial Park on the east side of U.S. 1 to a facility nearly three times as large.

Owner Tina Wehner said the 30,000-square-foot building on 4.2 acres cost about $5 million.

Ballet teacher convicted of assaulting 2nd child

An Ellicott City ballet teacher was found guilty Monday of sexually assaulting one of his students during private lessons - his second conviction stemming from allegations that he abused three young dancers.

Howard Circuit Judge James B. Dudley found Jose Anibal Macedo guilty of sexual child abuse and three counts of third-degree sexual offense in incidents involving a female student, who was 11 when the abuse began.

"I do find and do believe that [the girl's] testimony was truthful," Dudley said.

Sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 13. Macedo is serving a six-year prison sentence for attempted rape and related convictions in the first case and is accused of assaulting a third student at his Advance Dance Academy on Baltimore National Pike.

2 administrators cleared in grade-tampering case

The Howard County Board of Education unanimously reversed the demotions of two top administrators accused of grade tampering, announcing Monday that one reassignment had no factual basis and the other was arbitrary and illogical.

In separate legal opinions, the board cleared former Assistant Superintendent Roger L. Plunkett of charges he abused his power by performing academic favors for the children of Deputy Superintendent Kimberly Statham, who was also found innocent of any intended misuse of her office.

"I knew all along that I would be cleared of any charges," said Plunkett.

Statham called the board's decision "full vindication, which is what I expected would happen with a fair, objective review of the facts, though it certainly was long in coming."

County to provide benefits for same-sex employees

Howard County employees in same-sex domestic partnerships will be eligible for full health benefits, starting July 1, the Robey administration announced Tuesday after months of internal deliberation.

Raquel Sanudo, the county's chief administrative officer, said the administration took the action, which will not require County Council scrutiny, as a matter of fairness.

"As an organization, we believe in equity across our work force, when and wherever possible," she said. "This change will afford those employees whose union is not currently legally recognizable the same health insurance benefits as others currently employed by the county."

Howard County joins Baltimore, Montgomery County, the District of Columbia, Takoma Park and Greenbelt in extending the benefits.

Oakland Mills complex for seniors said to hit snag

The revitalization of Oakland Mills Village Center has suffered a significant setback - Exxon Mobil Corp. won't sell its vacant lot for a senior apartment building, according to a developer who has been planning the highly praised project for more than a year.

Developer Jeffrey C. Kirby said he had a contract with Exxon and was planning to buy the 1.7-acre lot before beginning construction, which was scheduled to begin this summer or fall and be completed within a year. But the company backed out of the deal.

The lot has been vacant since 2001, representing one of the struggles of the village center, and residents were hoping that the proposed 96-unit apartment building - which spurred the Rouse Co. to seek greater housing density for Columbia - would help breathe new life into the center.

Pleas for more limits on adult stores rejected

Howard County planning officials have rejected pleas by church members to more tightly restrict adult bookstore locations in a proposed zoning law.

The county Planning Board did not vote on the revised proposal at a meeting Thursday, but it is scheduled to make a recommendation June 9. The issue could then move to the County Council in July.

County officials made one minor change to the proposed ordinance, cutting from a year to a month the time businesses would have to comply with new regulations.

"It is discouraging," said Allen Harris, senior pastor of Columbia Presbyterian Church on Route 108. More than 30 church members attended a board hearing May 12 and urged the county to vigorously restrict adult bookstores and not to be intimidated by court rulings or the free speech argument.

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