Chamber makes cuts, tries a new operating strategy

The Howard County Chamber of Commerce lost more than $238,000 in its last fiscal year, an increase of more than 26 percent over the year before, while also losing members in record numbers, according to the group's financial statements.

Now, after taking measures to rectify its finances - payroll cuts that slashed the five-person staff to two and a renegotiation of terms for its leased space - the chamber is hoping to regain the trust of the business community through a new performance-based operating strategy designed to help it be more accountable to members.

The chamber's April financial statement shows that it has made gains since the end of the fiscal year in August, but it is not out of hot water. Net income is up by $22,000 over last year, and cash on hand has increased by $45,000.

Parent puts up Web site to complain about schools

When Columbia parent Joanne Heckman complained to administrators about perceived flaws within the Howard County public school system, she said she got a year's worth of unsatisfactory responses.

Now she has taken her concerns to the Internet, launching a site last month that details her troubles in what she said is an effort to raise public awareness about accountability issues and to gather information.

Heckman is one of a growing group of parents going online to share data, advice, ideas and complaints - justified or not - about public education. Many don't participate in Web sites, choosing instead to air their opinions on free e-mail groups called listservs, such as those offered by Yahoo, a company providing multiple Internet services.

Council postpones vote on school charts

In an unusual meeting marked by technical and legislative delays, the Howard County Council postponed annual action Monday night on charts that control the pace of development around crowded county schools, approved a lease for a halfway house for drug abusers and killed or tabled several other controversial measures.

The meeting began a half-hour late because of last-minute confusion over the school/development charts. Partial failure of the council's sound and cable television system also contributed to the delay.

The major action was postponing a vote on the school charts measure. The five council members unanimously chose a new chart of enrollment projections as an amendment to the bill, a change that will require discussion at a public hearing July 21, and a vote could take place July 30.

County action sought on widening Route 32

Western Howard County's state legislators say they want to lift the roadblock to road construction on the two-lane section of Route 32, arguing that the artery is congested and dangerous.

A decision about whether to double the lanes on the byway from Route 108 to Interstate 70, build interchanges only or do nothing has been stalled for years as planners study the issue and residents passionately argue over the proposals' impact on their lives and on the rural west. Route 32 south of that stretch is a multilane, limited-access highway.

The State Highway Administration wants support from local leaders before it embarks on road projects, but County Executive James N. Robey has said he will not recommend a strategy for Route 32 until the agency releases a report predicting whether widening would spur more development in the region.

20 days given for finding site for methadone clinic

The president of a proposed methadone clinic that is scheduled to open in Oakland Mills and is opposed by the community said he would give Howard County Councilman David A. Rakes an additional 20 days to find another site.

But Rakes - frustrated by the demands of Aktam Zahalka, the clinic's president - said he did not intend to continue to look for an alternative location for the facility, which is planned for the Stevens Forest Professional Center. "I don't plan to spend another day on this with this man," he said.

Rakes and Zahalka visited a number of sites Wednesday in the county, but none was deemed suitable for the facility.

The community is primarily concerned that the clinic would dispense methadone - a synthetic opiate intended for heroin addicts to control withdrawal symptoms and curb their addiction - within walking distance of four schools and three preschools or day care centers.

First Rouse biography to be published in fall

Seven years after the death of visionary developer and Columbia's founder James W. Rouse, the first biography of the social architect has been written, detailing his childhood and career.

The biographer, Josh Olsen, a Laurel native who lives in Washington, said he was captivated by Rouse's moral motivations.

Scheduled to be published in the fall, Olsen's book - which has yet to be titled - stems from the master's thesis he wrote about Rouse while on a Fulbright scholarship at the University of Bristol in England.

Court clerk plans to move land records

Howard Circuit Court Clerk Margaret D. Rappaport is planning to move land records out of her offices in the county's cramped courthouse and into a government-owned building five miles away - a move that title searchers and others who ply their trade among the records say will create a "logistical nightmare" for them.

But Rappaport told the title searchers, who forced their way into a meeting on the issue Thursday night, that she had no choice, especially after she learned that renovations planned for the recently vacated state's attorney's office included little new space for her expanding needs.

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