Howard Week

July 04, 2004

Assessment refunds force CA to miss year's budget goals

For the first time in more than a decade, the Columbia Association failed to meet its annual budget goals. The cause was a new state law that forced $1.9 million in refunds to property owners whose assessments skyrocketed last year.

Despite falling $625,000 short of its budget projections, the association ended the fiscal year with a $3.8 million surplus.

The General Assembly voted earlier this year to place a 10 percent limit on the association's annual revenue growth from rising property assessments. The law is retroactive to east Columbia's 33.4 percent increase last year, forcing CA to return $1.9 million to property owners for the fiscal year that ended April 30.

Corporate park remains major source of growth

Gateway corporate park may be 19 years old, but the locomotive on Howard County's economic engine is still moving, picking up speed again with a few more years of growth - and a few thousand more high-paying jobs - left in it.

Plans for a 100,000-square- foot Life Time Fitness athletic club building were announced in May, and the park's major builders are gearing up for a final round of growth before this decade ends.

Born of a failed 1969 dream of a huge General Electric appliance manufacturing park, the Rouse Co.'s development of offices, warehouses and stores that stretches west of Interstate 95 toward Snowden River Parkway has proved a much bigger economic generator for Maryland's second-smallest county than anyone could have imagined.

"If Howard County woke up [now] and said, `Let's do a 1,200-acre master plan community,' it would be impossible. You couldn't replace it," said Owen Rouse, director of brokerage for Manekin LLC, one of several major leasing and construction companies working in the park.

Howard absorbs cost of Clark investigation

Howard County taxpayers are footing the bill for the investigation that their Police Department conducted into allegations that the Baltimore police commissioner abused his fiancee during an early-morning dispute in May.

The exact price tag of the two-week investigation, which exonerated Commissioner Kevin P. Clark on the assault allegations, remains unclear because the Howard Police Department did not track labor and other administrative costs it incurred, according to a police spokeswoman.

The only records provided to The Sun in response to a Maryland Public Information Act request were receipts totaling $672.38 for gas, meals, parking and hotel expenses for two top police officials who took a two-day trip to New York City last month as part of the investigation. Before coming to Baltimore, Clark worked for the New York City Police Department.

6 Howard elementaries off troubled schools list

Six Howard County elementary schools have worked their way off a list of those failing to meet federal standards, but an alternative school for students who struggled in traditional classrooms has been added to the list and two middle schools face greater scrutiny.

State education officials, who are charged with implementing the federal No Child Left Behind Act, released the annual list of troubled schools Tuesday.

More than 30 Baltimore schools that have failed to meet standards for several years in a row will be forced by federal law to undergo a major overhaul this year. Parents and students will begin seeing new staff, principals and curriculum, particularly in the middle and high schools trying to meet new requirements, city school officials said.

Despite concerns about the city schools that did not make the grade, a large number of schools in the region have made great strides, including the six in Howard: Bryant Woods, Cradlerock (formerly Dasher Green-Owen Brown), Guilford, Phelps Luck, Swansfield and Talbott Springs elementaries.

Partisan split remains over charter amendment

The discussion was cordial last week and the political jabs were delivered with laughter and smiles, but chances for a unanimous Howard County Council vote Tuesday on a charter amendment that would make it harder to raise taxes remained slim at best.

"It's more of a philosophical difference" separating the council's two Republicans from the three Democrats, western county Republican Allan H. Kittleman said at the council's late-afternoon work session Tuesday in Ellicott City.

The minority Republicans want less spending and the ability to block tax increases, while the Democrats say government flexibility and quality of life are more important.

County Executive James N. Robey, whose 30 percent local income tax increase last year prompted the move to change the charter, has said he will fight to defeat the amendment if it is put on the ballot by council action or a taxpayer petition drive that is under way.

Officials step up efforts to ensure juror eligibility

Three weeks after a Howard County murder verdict was thrown into question by a juror's lack of U.S. citizenship, court officials and a state legislator say they are working to make sure the situation is not repeated.

Jury Commissioner Steve Merson has begun reviewing basic requirements for jury service during his morning talk to prospective jurors.

At least one Howard prosecutor has added qualification inquiries to questions she wants judges to ask during voir dire, the process of interviewing prospective jurors in a courtroom.

Also, a state delegate said he is talking to state transportation officials - who supply part of the list from which counties draw jurors - about adding a citizenship query and proof of citizenship requirement to the application for drivers' licenses and identification cards.

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