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HOWARD WEEK

School construction panel discusses declining revenue

The first meeting of Howard County Executive James N. Robey's new Committee to Explore Capital Funding Alternatives for Education lasted more than two hours, but two small charts presented to the group told the story.

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One chart showed that the county spent $28.2 million building schools in 1998, but it expects a request for nearly $147 million next year to keep up with growing enrollment, smaller class sizes, renovations, inflation and all-day kindergarten.

The other chart shows that state school construction funding has dropped from 40 percent of the county's school construction budget five years ago to 15 percent this year, with prospects for another decline next year, according to Bruce M. Venter, the school system's chief business officer.

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By the end of what amounted to a long series of presentations Aug. 1, Ananta Hejeebu, who was appointed to the committee by the County Council's minority Republicans, said, "It's hard to disagree with the funding needs."

School worker wounded in an Ellicott City store

A Howard County school custodian was in serious condition Aug. 3 after being shot in an apparent random attack in an Ellicott City Rite Aid store Aug. 2, police said.

Robert Lee Jackson, 50, the chief custodian at Mayfield Woods Middle School in Elkridge and a father of three, was buying sodas when he was shot four times by a man he did not know, according to county police and his family.

Arrested and held without bail at the Howard County Detention Center was James Milton Lane, 46, on charges including attempted first-degree murder.

Conversion delay helps Oella Mill businesses

A court decision that has once again pushed back plans to convert historic Oella Mill into luxury apartments is bringing some businesses back to the towering, 200-year-old edifice where retailers and others can find some of the cheapest commercial rent in the area.

Customer visits and the number of tenants have increased at the mill's antiques mall as word has gotten out that the popular location is still operating because plans to develop the building overlooking the Patapsco River have been rejected by Baltimore County Circuit Court.

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Some businesses that had cleared out of the mall to make way for the planned renovation have recently returned, and just as many new businesses are opening, shop owners said. New artists have discovered the mill, too.

Petition against raising tax declared illegal by solicitor

A citizens petition seeking a referendum to roll back an income tax increase was declared illegal Monday in an opinion by Howard County Solicitor Barbara M. Cook.

The legal opinion was expected, but Patrick Dornan, president of the Howard County Taxpayers' Association, said his group is not inclined to challenge it in court. The citizens group, which submitted the petition to the county elections board July 22, had hoped to put the issue to the voters in November next year. The income tax increase was proposed by County Executive James N. Robey and approved by the County Council in May.

Dornan said his next step is probably an attempt to enact laws or change the county charter to limit tax increases.

Marriottsville group fights proposed school

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Legal action by a citizens group threatens to delay the scheduled 2005 opening of a Howard County high school in Marriottsville. Group members, who all live near the proposed site, hope their efforts will force the school board to build elsewhere.

"That's our whole position; that's really what we would like to have happen," said Chuck T. Lacey Jr., director of Citizens for Adequate School Facilities, which contends that the school site is inadequate.

Education officials say those efforts will fail. "We plan to build on that site, we want to build on that site and we're going to build on that site," school system attorney Mark Blom said.

Lacey's group has filed two appeals, the first questioning the validity of the County Council's decision in February to allow the school to exceed by 11 feet the 34-foot height limit typically allowed in residential areas.

New food vendor for county buildings

Howard County officials signed a one-year contract with K.I.S.S. Catering Thursday to run snack shops and cafes at four county office buildings, officials said.

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The Columbia business, which runs the concessions stand at Centennial Park, will take over food operations at the George Howard Building, circuit courthouse and central library, beginning Aug. 25. K.I.S.S. is expected to restore cafe service to the Glenwood library later, said Charles A. Kasky, the county's deputy chief administrative officer.

The business will replace Nixon's Farm, which left the courthouse in the spring and is expected to end service at the Howard building and central library next week, Kasky said.

Planning Board offers rezoning suggestions

Howard County's west ought to remain much as it is and its eastern corridor should transform into something very different, the local Planning Board believes.

After months of hearings and meetings, Howard's volunteer panel of citizen-planners has offered recommendations for comprehensively rezoning the county, agreeing with plans to revitalize the U.S. 1 corridor by rezoning hundreds of acres but looking askance at most requests from landowners to increase commercial operations in the rural west.

The County Council will hold hearings this fall and expects to vote on new and changed zones by the end of the year.


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