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HOWARD WEEK

Citizens group backs increase in transfer tax

After six weeks of discussion and at least seven proposals, a Howard County citizens committee created to find ways to pay for new schools voted 12-3 in favor of raising the real estate transfer tax by half a percentage point.

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The three members who voted against the increase, proposed last year by the Robey administration, were Patricia Smallwood, president of the county real estate association, and Republican appointees Steven H. Adler and Ananta Hejeebu.

The Sept. 12 vote will return the issue to the county's General Assembly delegation, which rejected the proposal last winter. The proposed increase would raise closing costs for a $250,000 house by $1,250.

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PTA Council leaders oppose Robey appointment

Leaders of Howard County's influential PTA Council took the unusual step at a hearing Monday night of opposing County Executive James N. Robey's appointment of Joshua M. Kaufman to the elected county school board because of what they feel is his lack of experience in education.

Kaufman got strong support from several other speakers at the County Council hearing in Ellicott City, however, including the chairman of the school board, Sandra H. French, and several members of the County Council, making his confirmation seem secure.

But Robey's choice of an education community outsider to fill a three-year vacancy on the elected board rankled some. Kaufman would replace Virginia Charles, who resigned last month.

Teen pleads insanity in poisoning of friend

An Ellicott City teen-ager accused of fatally poisoning a friend by spiking his soda with cyanide filed an insanity plea in the case Monday.

Lawyers filed legal notice claiming that Ryan T. Furlough, 18, was not criminally responsible "by reason of insanity" for the death of Benjamin Edward Vassiliev, 17, in January.

"It's certainly one of the defenses we're considering in our representation of Ryan," attorney Joseph Murtha said after a brief hearing in Howard County Circuit Court.

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Furlough, who is charged with murder, has a history of depression and was being treated for it at the time of the killing, but there were doubts about whether that treatment was "adequate," Murtha said.

Columbia residents seek lower assessment charges

As a handful of residents pleaded for relief from higher annual assessment charges at a hearing on the Columbia Association's budget, the organization's president said she would provide five options to address the contentious issue by the end of the month.

"People are fed up; they really are. Talk to your neighbors," Joel Pearlman of Kings Contrivance told board members Sept. 11. "They want to keep within a budget. Everybody has a budget now. ... Stocks have gone down. People haven't gotten raises in three years."

After steep jumps in their property values, east Columbia homeowners have been grousing over higher annual payments to the homeowners association.

Group studies land use in U.S. 40 corridor

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Now that comprehensive rezoning is under way, Howard County planners are turning their attention to U.S. 40, Ellicott City's retail-commuter corridor.

About 20 businesses, landowners and residents have been invited to join a task force studying land use and appearance in the U.S. 40 corridor between Turf Valley and Howard's border with Baltimore County.

Some who submitted proposals to change to commercial zoning on parcels within the corridor are watching the process warily. The planning board recommended that the County Council, which began hearing testimony about petitions Wednesday, defer its consideration of those petitions until the study is completed.

Storm precautions in Ellicott City

Although many shop owners in Ellicott City weren't around for the flood of 1972, when Tropical Storm Agnes devastated lower Main Street, they've heard the stories. And they weren't taking chances with Hurricane Isabel.

On Wednesday, many along the flood-prone street began taping and boarding windows with plywood, packing merchandise into boxes and moving them to upper floors. Some rented trucks to whisk thousands of dollars worth of antiques, clothing, jewelry, art and other items to higher ground.

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Proposal would ease changes in covenants

In the Columbia Association's convoluted governing process, amending the homeowners association's covenants is nearly an impossibility - all of the town's property owners would have to agree on the change.

Del. Shane E. Pendergrass, a Howard County Democrat, wants to modify that. She's preparing to introduce legislation that would give the association an easier way to amend its regulations.

Such a law would significantly change the CA's governing structure and would make it possible to change the way the association handles its property assessments, annual charges that are based on property values.

Those charges have risen an average of 33.4 percent in east Columbia this year after the state reassessed the valuations of homes.


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