Week in Review

December 18, 2005

Government

County revenue tops estimates

Revenue is flowing into Howard County government coffers faster than predicted, producing $19.4 million more than forecast through October.

Overall, the county collected $360.3 million by October's end, compared with predictions of $340.8 million by that time, according to Jonathon Seeman, the county budget director. The increase is 5.7 percent more than predicted. The revenue also represents an 11.6 percent increase over last year at the same time, and reflects better than expected results from income and property taxes, building permits and various fees, Seeman said.

Officials caution that slowing real estate sales and a looming $400 million debt for future retiree health benefits could affect the year's financial outcome.

Because property tax bills go out July 1, most of that revenue -- the largest single source of county funding -- has been collected, and the county has $12 million more than predicted last spring, when the current budget was adopted. Howard has a 5 percent assessment cap, limiting the growth of taxes on existing homes.

But the cap does not cover property taxes on new homes, businesses and sales of existing homes, and revenue is up 4.1 percent over expectations and 7.9 percent over last year at this time, Seeman said.

Property taxes represent 45 percent of all county revenue, and income taxes are 40 percent of revenue.

Revenue from income taxes, real estate transfer and recordation taxes was calculated through November, and all categories showed hefty increases, Seeman said.

Income tax collections are up 19.1 percent over predictions and last year's revenue for the same period.

Real estate transfer taxes are up 21 percent over expectations, recordation tax revenues are up 30.8 percent, and building permits are 50 percent higher than predicted, though all three of those categories combine for just $6 million.

Howard section, Wednesday, Dec. 14, Page 1G

Courts

Conviction in killing of teen is upheld

Maryland's highest court has upheld the murder conviction yesterday of one of two men convicted of stabbing and strangling a 14-year-old high school freshman behind a Pizza Hut in Columbia five years ago.

Frederick James Moore, 26, had argued that the trial court erred in barring testimony outlining his accomplice's history of violence against women, which he believed would have helped his case.

Moore also had wanted the public defender's office to pay for the services of a DNA expert to testify at trial, which he said that he could not afford. Moore had paid for a private defense attorney.

Six of the seven judges on the Maryland Court of Appeals disagreed, however, saying in an opinion Wednesday that only suspects represented by the public defender's office have a constitutional right to public money for an expert.

The appeals court also set out guidelines for suspects who are represented by public defenders. In such a situation, the court said that the suspect must have "a defense expert who will assist in evaluation, preparation and presentation" of DNA evidence.

Maryland section, Wednesday, Dec. 14, Page 4B

Grand jury

Woman indicted in traffic death

A 31-year-old Columbia woman has been indicted by a Howard County grand jury on charges of vehicular homicide, drunken driving and speeding.

Maricela Knight was driving a 2005 Nissan Maxima when it plowed through a guardrail, hit several trees and overturned on an embankment about 2:20 a.m. Sept. 23.

Her husband, Andrew T. Knight, 27, was killed in the one-car crash on Route 175 near Tamar Drive. He was thrown from the rear seat.

Police said Maricela Knight, a resident of the 6300 block of Gray Sea Way, was driving 70 mph in a 50-mph zone, according to the indictment. She surrendered to police Thursday and was released on her own recognizance.

Maryland section, Friday, Dec. 16, Page 6B

Police

Post office is burglarized

A burglar broke into the West Friendship Post Office early Thursday and stole a computer system, postage printer and scanners that the postal service says have a lot of value to the government, but won't fetch much for the thief, unless he has the passwords.

Without the passwords, "the computer has no use to anyone outside the post office," spokesman Frank J. Schissler said. "Maybe they thought that they could sell the computer's guts to a pawn shop, but its guts are not a basic PC system. It was specially designed for the postal service."

The government is offering up to a $10,000 reward for information leading to the return of the printer and computer system, which weighs packages, calculates postage and tracks retail activity. Schissler said that identity theft is not a concern. The system tracks packages, not senders' payment information or addresses.

Schissler said the burglar forced his way into the lobby of the post office in the West Friendship Shopping Center, 12800 Frederick Road, between 1:30 a.m. and 6 a.m. Workers are manually applying postage until a new printer is delivered.

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