Howard Week

October 10, 2004

Md. board approves funding for park in west county

With no real alternative, Maryland's Board of Public Works approved a $534,114 payment for Howard County's Western Regional Park, ensuring that roads, parking lots and the first five playing fields will go forward as scheduled.

Two weeks ago, the board delayed voting on the money after park opponents protested the lighted fields and the size and scope of the park, even though the state had spent more than $4 million on the project.

In Annapolis, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. recommended - and Howard County Executive James N. Robey agreed - that the county form a citizens committee to monitor the park's development and include Glenwood residents in its operations when the park opens next fall. The park's features, Ehrlich and state Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp said, are a local issue.

After Wednesday's meeting, Joan Becker, a leader of the park's opponents, said her group realized that it could not stop the park or the lights. Still, the group wants to have some say on the park's development and use.

"That's what this was all about. I'm thanking you for getting us to this level and having someone listen to us," Becker told the board.

Panel delays decision on project near pavilion

After hearing three hours of testimony from Rouse Co. representatives and questions from an aggressive crowd, the Howard County Planning Board ended its meeting Tuesday night without a decision on the company's proposal to construct commercial buildings around Merriweather Post Pavilion.

For more than a year, controversy has brewed over the crescent of land that surrounds the open-air concert venue. And the debate will continue, the board announced last night, as it scheduled another meeting on the issue for Nov. 4.

Rouse, which owns the 51.7-acre property around Merriweather, wants to build retail stores and business offices. But many residents bitterly oppose that and previous proposals because the land is used for parking during concerts at Merriweather. Taking those parking spaces away, they say, would be a virtual death sentence for the amphitheater.

Rouse officials, however, argued that their project would enhance the area.

Council bids Kittleman farewell after 6 years

The Howard County Council bid a fond farewell to Councilman Allan H. Kittleman after six years of service and then tabled his two final bills - one designed to preserve Frisky's Wildlife and Primate Sanctuary and the other regulating large, free-standing garages in his western county district.

Kittleman plans to resign this month to assume the state Senate seat of his father, Robert H. Kittleman, who died Sept. 11. His County Council seat will be vacant until a new member is chosen, likely before Thanksgiving.

He was lavishly praised and thanked by Democrats and the other council Republican, Christopher J. Merdon, and given a plaque and a new state-theme tie bearing Maryland's flag and a crab.

But without agreement on the thorny issues of the animal shelter or amendments to the garage measure, votes on both bills were delayed for a month - meaning Kittleman will not get to vote on them.

Small surplus called sign of brighter outlook

Though Maryland officials closed the last fiscal year with a $300 million surplus, Howard County took in just $750,000 more than expected last fiscal year, Raymond S. Wacks, the county budget director, revealed last week.

But Wacks and Sharon Greisz, the finance director, said the year-end bonus, while small compared with annual county surpluses of $6 million to $12 million before the recession, is one signal of brightening fiscal fortunes. The budget year ended June 30, but figures just became available.

If things continue improving - barring more state budget cuts - there could eventually be a local tax cut, officials said.

"That may be possible," Wacks said. "We'll move forward and see what happens."

County Executive James N. Robey, a Democrat who pushed through a 30 percent increase in local income taxes last year, was cautious about predicting a tax cut.

"Today is not the time," Robey said. "I'd love to give something back to the taxpayers when it's doable, but it's not doable yet."

Budget session hears pleas to aid elementary school

Parents of the children at Howard County's most-crowded elementary school lobbied the school board at a budget hearing to restore money in next year's proposed capital spending plan to expand or replace the building.

Most of the comments during the public hearing on Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin's $87.4 million proposal concerned the recommendation to defer a solution for crowded Bushy Park Elementary in Glenwood for another year because of issues surrounding its septic system.

A dozen parents expressed frustration with the delay, saying their children are crammed into classrooms.

"We need relief, and we need it now," said Stephen Poltorak, parent of a first-grader at Bushy Park.

More than two dozen students and parents from Mount Hebron High School asked the board for money to renovate their aging school.

Money is not included for Mount Hebron in the proposed budget or the school system's long-range plans.

The bulk of the proposed budget goes to building new schools and major renovations: $8.5 million to open a new elementary school in 2006 in western Howard; $17.2 million to renovate Howard High School, which opened in 1951; and $23.3 million to build an elementary school in northeastern Howard by 2007.

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