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Columbia at odds over whether to fund golf courses or pools

A debate over Columbia's capital budget priorities has turned into something resembling class warfare, with populist advocates arguing that money should be spent making pools more affordable rather than rebuilding an elite golf course.

Columbia Association President Maggie J. Brown had said her top priority for next year's capital budget is fixing the damaged greens at Hobbit's Glen Golf Club, where golfers have long complained about the quality of the course.

At a Columbia Council prebudget hearing Sept. 12, Dave Leonard, chairman of the Hobbit's Glen/Fairway Hills Golf Committee, said 5,000 fewer rounds of golf have been played on the course this year compared with the same period last year. Declining use will cause the golf course to lose $165,000 to $200,000 this year, he said.

Districts pose problems for new homeowners

In most neighborhoods, new vinyl siding is a home-improvement project. In historic districts, it's a sin. Two suburban families recently learned that painful fact the hard way when they covered aging asbestos siding with vinyl and were ordered to remove it, at a cost each said would top $60,000.

They say they had no idea that they were living in areas with historic-district regulations when they installed the modern siding -- the Harrises on their century-old house in downtown Ellicott City and the Badarts on their mid-19th-century home in the Elkridge neighborhood of Lawyers Hill.

Dozens of neighborhoods throughout Maryland have historic protections, and sometimes newcomers are given no warning that what they do to the outsides of their homes is someone else's business.

Group endorses candidate for District Court vacancy

The Howard County Bar Association has endorsed and given its highest recommendation to a single applicant of 11 vying for the District Court vacancy created by the death of Judge C. James Sfekas.

After interviews with applicants Sept. 11, a local bar committee voted to endorse and highly recommend Richard S. Bernhardt to the commission charged with making recommendations for the post to Gov. Parris N. Glendening. Bernhardt, a former assistant Howard public defender, is a lawyer with the state attorney general's office.

The committee also recommended four of the 11, did not recommend another four, and decided not to recommend two "at this time."

Police buy system to track false burglary calls

Howard County police soon will have a new tool to fight one of their biggest nuisances: false alarms.

Following an example set by many municipalities throughout the nation, Howard County adopted an ordinance last year aimed at reducing alarm calls by issuing citations and fining offenders $50 or more if police receive more than two false alarms from the same source in a year.

Howard police have kept track of false burglary alarms for about a year, but they recently spent nearly $60,000 on a computer program -- called CryWolf -- that will help them track the more than 20,000 alarm calls they receive each year, almost all of which are false.

Both parties' hopes rise in District 4 campaign

Joan Lancos -- the Republican candidate for County Council in heavily Democratic west Columbia -- thinks her chances of winning that race just improved.

Mary Kay Sigaty, barely defeated in the closely fought Democratic primary Sept. 10, shares a community-volunteer background with Lancos marked by so much overlap that both sat on the same school-boundaries advisory committee last year.

Columbia native Kenneth S. Ulman, the standard-bearer for his party in District 4 now that Sigaty has conceded, has state and national political experience, including campaigning for Bill Clinton in 1996 and advising Gov. Parris N. Glendening on expenditures. He also won primary endorsements from key Democratic leaders.

Howard officer acquitted of assault charges

A Howard County police corporal was acquitted Thursday of all charges related to accusations that he assaulted his wife and threatened her at gunpoint.

A jury of six men and six women spent more than nine hours deliberating before returning verdicts of not guilty on each of seven assault, obstruction of justice and handgun charges against Cpl. Michael K. Williams, a 17-year veteran. The cases against him had been marked by squabbling and accusations of politicking and bias among Howard police and Carroll County prosecutors.

The prosecutors, who were specially assigned to the case, attacked Howard County police officers' handling of an investigation into possible misconduct by one of their own, while defense attorney Clarke F. Ahlers made accusations about the prosecutors' motives and methods.

Officials brace for impact of state budget shortfall

Maryland's newly projected $1.7 billion shortfall has local officials bracing for a financial double whammy -- potential cuts in state aid just as many will be forced to slash their income tax estimates.

The specter of belt-tightening is particularly troublesome for Baltimore City and the poorest counties, which rely most heavily on state money. But the announcement Wednesday that the shortfall is increasing worries local officials.

"In '91, the state had more options," said Howard County budget administrator Raymond S. Wacks. "Logic says, when you look at the state budget, the biggest piece of it is aid to public education and safety. ... I don't think they want to make cuts in that area -- I don't know what they're going to do."

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