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New census data show wealth gap widening in Howard

The chasm between Howard County's richest and poorest neighborhoods is widening. At the top in the state's wealthiest county is a census tract that includes most of Clarksville, where the median household earned $117,101 in 1999, according to new Census 2000 data.

At the bottom are Ellicott City's neighborhoods bounded by U.S. 29, U.S. 40, Interstate 70 and the county line, where the median household earned $41,237.

Those two census tracts held the same ranks 10 years earlier. But while both gained financially during the 1990s, Clarksville gained more - 15.5 percent compared with 5.5 percent in the Ellicott City tract, when adjusted for inflation.

Hobbit's Glen members complain about conditions

Angered by suspension of a longtime member who protested continuing turf problems at Hobbit's Glen Golf Course's greens, other golfers have started pressuring the two top officers of the Columbia Association, the course owner, to supervise course management more closely.

Walter Morgan, a retired management consultant from Columbia's Bryant Woods neighborhood and organizer of the new pressure group, said each of the five members of the Ad Hoc Committee from Hobbit's Glen Golf Club comes from a different social group at the club, some as large as 40 players, and most are longtime friends and members.

The group held a private, 90-minute meeting Aug. 15 with Columbia Association President Maggie J. Brown and Miles Coffman, chairman of the Columbia Council. Issues they touched on included maintenance, accountability for course managers, course finances, planning, weekend hours, and application of a toxic gas to kill vegetation on one green that is being experimentally reseeded.

County panel holds hearing on water billing practice

A Howard County advisory board heard complaints Monday night from activists and community residents about unmetered water billing practices in local apartment complexes.

Residents said the practice, known as Ratio Utility Billing System is unfair because apartment-dwellers are charged based on monthly estimates, rather than measurements, of their water consumption.

Critics say estimated billing forces people who conserve water to shoulder some of the costs incurred by neighbors who do not. And they note that passing water costs along to tenants leaves landlords with little incentive to fix leaks or other plumbing problems that waste water, which is of particular concern during drought conditions.

County schools open with minimal problems

Construction workers were putting the finishing touches on school buildings around the district through Aug. 25, but the last-minute efforts apparently paid off. Nearly 47,000 students started classes in Howard County on Monday with few, if any, problems reported.

All additions and renovations were completed on time and on budget, said school spokeswoman Patti Caplan, and only three of 147 vacant teaching positions were unfilled.

"It's just been a very smooth opening," said Superintendent John R. O'Rourke. "It gives every indication that it's going to be a very smooth year."

Countywide SAT scores match last year's record

Howard County high school seniors maintained the district's all-time high performance on the national SAT examination for a second year, and also earned the highest scores in the Baltimore region with their composite of 1,084.

Results released Tuesday showed that although last year's seniors dropped 2 points on the test's verbal section, to 534, they increased their math scores by 2 points, to 550, keeping the average score the same as that earned by the preceding class - which at the time was the highest recorded by the system.

Superintendent John R. O'Rourke called the results "gratifying." The composite score for four of the county's 10 high schools increased last year, while one remained the same and five declined. The largest increase in a composite score was 42 points at Atholton High and the largest decrease was at Oakland Mills High - 59 points.

Violent crime dropped 17% in area, statistics show

Overall violent crime dropped nearly 17 percent in Howard County during the first six months of this year, compared with the same period last year, according to police statistics released Tuesday.

Police also reported solving a greater percentage of violent crimes, such as rapes and robberies, than they did during the same period last year. Double-digit declines occurred in many categories of crime, police said, including rape, burglary and aggravated assault.

But the number of car thefts and attempted car thefts increased about 10 percent this year, from 255 to 280, the statistics show. Robberies also increased by nearly 8 percent, from 97 to 105. Police Chief Wayne Livesay said the increase in thefts should be assessed over a longer period. "It's a disservice to say how we did, based on such a short time," he said.

'Integrity check' leads to dismissal of officer

A Howard County police officer who was hired less than a year ago has been fired after a police sting operation in which he was accused of mishandling money, police officials and sources said last week.

Police officials would not identify the officer, but several sources familiar with the investigation said the officer's last name is Oden, and that he is a former Baltimore officer who was hired by Howard County.

Howard Police Chief Wayne Livesay also would not provide details of the sting - which he termed an "integrity check" - mentioning personnel rules. He would confirm only that such an operation occurred Aug. 21 and led to an officer's dismissal Aug. 22. He said that such stings are not performed randomly but are employee-specific.

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