In the name of relieving crowding in schools, Charles County's elected officials are moving toward ratifying some startling numbers.

Documents emerging from staffs at the public schools and the county planning department indicate that home builders may be held to as few as 298 building permits in the first half of 2000.

That adds up to an annual rate of roughly 600 units. By comparison, the county has issued more than 1,000 residential building permits in each of the last four years.

The steep reduction follows the commissioners' decision to tightly link residential building permits to school capacity. Under the policy adopted in July, a shortage of classroom seats at any academic level--elementary, middle or high school--can trigger limits.

The idea is to ensure that children from new homes do not overwhelm public schools.

The Board of Commissioners met Tuesday with the Board of Education to review the figures. Their aim was to either ratify or modify the target number for the first half of the year.

But questions arose over how to account for the space created when the county builds a new high school, such as the one that is expected to be open by 2004.

The boards will meet jointly again Tuesday to try to reach a decision.

St. Mary's Terminates Administrator's Contract

The St. Mary's County commissioners terminated County Administrator Mortimer L. Smedley's contract Tuesday. The termination became effective the same day.

Smedley was officially appointed county administrator last March and had served just 10 months on his two-year contract. The commissioners agreed to honor their end of the contractual obligations.

George Forrest, deputy county administrator, will assume the duties of the county administrator until the board finds a replacement.

Before his appointment, Smedley had served as acting county administrator after John Kachmar resigned in 1998 to take a position in North Carolina.

This is not the only time commissioners have terminated a contract in the last year. The same day Smedley was appointed county administrator, the board asked then-County Attorney Douglas S. Durkin to leave his position four months before his contract was up.

Smedley, an Army veteran who served in the Special Operations Command during Desert Storm, is also a former Maryland State Police officer and Harford County sheriff's deputy.

From 1989 to 1998, he served as chief county administrator in County of Carbon, Pa., before coming to St. Mary's County.

Thompson's New Job

Barbara R. Thompson, the former president of the St. Mary's County Board of Commissioners, has a new job.

In a letter to her erstwhile colleague, Charles County Board of Commissioners President Murray D. Levy (D-At Large), Thompson said she is the new Southern Maryland Regional Customer Service Manager for the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development.

"As a former elected official I know your time is limited," Thompson wrote in the letter. With that, she offered to meet to discuss, among other things, "your future plans for community development in the areas of affordable housing and revitalization."

Thompson, 55, a Republican, lost her bid for reelection to the at-large commission presidency in 1998, when she gave way to current commission President Julie B. Randall (D-At Large). Thompson was a two-term member of the St. Mary's board.

Crab Harvest Numbers Up by 7.5 Million in 1999

Commercial watermen in Maryland hauled in 33.7 million pounds of blue crabs in 1999--7.5 million pounds more than the disastrous 1998 season, but well below the 38 million pound average of the past eight years.

The preliminary figures were released last week by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and reported by the Associated Press. The figures are roughly what DNR biologists expected after their winter dredge survey last January, said Eric Schwaab, head of the department's fisheries division.

"What the biologists said was going to happen was exactly what happened: a very slow start and an average finish," he said.

Crab harvest figures are being watched closely as a growing number of Chesapeake Bay scientists fear that the most valuable commercial fishery in the bay is teetering on the edge of a crash.

A team of University of Maryland scientists reported in September 1998 that blue crabs have been over-harvested since the late 1980s, and said the harvest would have to be cut by at least 10 percent if the industry were to survive.

In April, Virginia's top fisheries manager endorsed a plan to create a network of crab sanctuaries stretching the length of the bay, where the creatures would be off-limits to watermen. A report on that proposal is expected next month, said Rob O'Reilly, assistant fisheries manager for the Virginia Marine Resources Commission.

The commission imposed a one-year moratorium on new commercial crab licenses and on license transfers last spring at the request of Virginia watermen, who said they are worried that the blue crab is overfished and in need of protection.

Larry Simns, executive director of the Maryland Watermen's Association, scoffed at reports of a depleted crab stock. Watermen didn't catch many crabs last season because they had no market for them, he said.

"In the fall, crabbers sell to picking houses, but the picking houses couldn't take them because of all this foreign crab meat," he said. "They could have caught 40 million pounds."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

CAPTION: Workers moved the old La Plata train station across the tracks last week to the Kent Avenue site just off Charles Street, where it will become the La Plata Train Museum. The structure will be refurbished before it reopens.