August 30, 2007

St. Mary's College locks down campus

St. Mary's College of Maryland officials locked down the remote campus for more than an hour yesterday afternoon, concerned that an armed robber was on the loose nearby, officials said.

The "shelter in place" procedure was lifted after local authorities informed campus officials that the robber had fled the area, said Sgt. Gerald Johnson of the St. Mary's County Sheriff's Office.

The robbery took place about 1:30 p.m. near a church next to the 319-acre campus in Southern Maryland, authorities said. The victim, a 48-year-old man not connected with the college, was not hurt. Detectives arrested two suspects in the nearby town of California.

The lockdown was implemented because "we were not sure if the suspect had left the campus," said college spokesman Marc Apter. "The description police gave initially was that he ... was possibly carrying a .45-caliber handgun."

Between 2,200 and 2,300 people are on the campus during a typical weekday, Apter said. Campus officials used e-mail, voice-mail "blasts" and a car-mounted public address system to urge people on campus to go indoors and stay there.

A remote electronic system temporarily locked all building doors, officials said. The lockdown was lifted about 3 p.m. and classes resumed.

Apter said the campus responded to the lockdown in a "very orderly, calm, agreeable manner."

Gadi Dechter

State finances

Situation is better than expected

Maryland's financial picture is slightly better than analysts originally predicted, according to a new report from the comptroller's office, possibly providing more flexibility to Gov. Martin O'Malley as he grapples with the state's projected $1.5 billion budget shortfall.

Higher-than-expected revenues, a slight slowdown in spending and a handful of other factors give the state about $126.5 million more than it expected to have in its accounts now.

"After a number of tough decisions and cuts in spending, we're glad that things are starting to move in the right direction, but we still have a long way to go to solve the state's structural deficit," O'Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said in an e-mail.

The extra money could be useful if the legislature approves slot-machine gambling. Revenues from slots would take months or years to make a difference, and the extra cash could help the state make ends meet in the meantime.

Comptroller Peter Franchot said Maryland finished fiscal year 2007 with $101.2 million more than expected in individual and corporate income taxes. Sales tax revenues were $37.2 million below expectations and other taxes slightly above.

Reimbursements from Heritage Tax Credits exceeded projections by $33.9 million, and state agencies returned $17.9 million more in unspent funds than planners expected.

David Roose, the head of revenue estimates in Franchot's office, said he will re-evaluate his projections next month, but that it doesn't look as if the uptick in tax collections will affect the long-term outlook.

Andrew A. Green

Agency security

City police official to take post

The commander of Baltimore's Northern District retired yesterday from the city Police Department after being tapped to run a state law enforcement agency responsible for security at Maryland's government buildings.

Michael A. Pristoop, a major in the city department, was named chief of police for the state Department of General Services. He will command an agency with 200 officers who are responsible for providing security for state office buildings, members of the General Assembly, Gov. Martin O'Malley's executive staff and state employees, according to an announcement issued yesterday.

Warner I. Sumpter, who had been chief of the general-services police agency since February 2004, retired, an agency spokesman said. He previously served as assistant adjutant general with the Maryland Army National Guard and as a state trooper for more than 20 years.

Pristoop, a 21-year veteran of the city Police Department, took over the Northern District in April last year. He will assume his new post Sept. 12.

Gus Sentementes

Health care

Nursing shortage could worsen

The influx of people from military base realignment could worsen Maryland's shortage of nurses and other health care workers, the state's health secretary warned yesterday.

John M. Colmers, secretary of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, told members of the O'Malley administration's base-realignment planning subcabinet yesterday that while the state's hospitals have launched a "tidal wave" of rebuilding and expansion in recent years, they are wrestling with staffing shortages, particularly of nurses and doctors.

Nursing shortages are especially acute, despite increases in pay, government-funded scholarships and stepped-up recruiting, and they appear to be worsening. The Maryland Hospital Association recently reported that nursing job vacancies grew from 10.3 percent in 2005 to 13 percent last year.

Part of the problem, Colmers said, appears to be a bottleneck in the training of new nurses and other health care workers. The state's colleges and universities are not producing enough graduates to meet the projected needs for about 25 health care professions, he said.

There are more applicants for nursing training than the schools can accommodate, the health secretary said, because of a shortage of qualified instructors. Nursing schools typically require faculty to have doctorates, he said, and not enough nurses are going on to get advanced degrees so they can teach others.

Timothy B. Wheeler

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