Wanted: a prime piece of real estate along Route 1. Willing to pay $300,000. Please contact the Howard County government.

With a $300,000 state grant, county officials are looking for land where they can build single-family homes that would be sold at reduced prices. The plan would help the county address two of its biggest issues: the revitalization of Route 1 and the county's lack of affordable housing.

County officials have been working to bring new businesses and housing to Route 1. With land increasingly scarce, the corridor is seen as one of the last places in the county where new business can locate.

Meanwhile, as the region's housing prices have soared -- and almost none as high as Howard's -- county leaders have struggled to provide homes for middle- and low-income families. The mean sales price of a home in Howard has grown from $186,680 five years ago to $236,421 last year. Last month the County Council held a lottery in which nine moderate-income county residents won the option to buy a $240,000 townhouse for half price.

Prosecutor Moving On After four years of working to put away some of Howard County's more notorious criminals, Deputy State's Attorney I. Matthew Campbell is moving to new challenges.

He leaves next week to become senior counsel for the private, not-for-profit National Association of Securities Dealers, which oversees thousands of brokerage and securities firms doing business in the United States.

"It's public service work, and I've always had an interest in investigating and going after fraud," Campbell said. "It's a wonderful opportunity. It sort of came my way."

Campbell said he will miss his colleagues in the county state's attorney's office, but he won't miss the political uncertainties that go with his job. His boss, State's Attorney Marna McLendon (R), did not seek reelection this year and, changes in administration can be hard, he said, "particularly for a deputy."

"They tend to have a short lifespan when an election comes."

Happy Trails, to Some "There's never before been a 1.25-mile trail that's stirred up this much agitation," said Oella developer Charles Wagandt, his exasperation clearly showing over a long-running dispute about a paved bicycle trail along the Patapsco River.

But an agreement reached last week between state agencies and environmentalists could ease the aggravation and speed work on the trail in Patapsco Valley State Park. During a conference before an administrative law judge, the Department of Natural Resources agreed not to pursue any more paving projects within the 14,000-acre park for the next decade. Foes of the $1.5 million trail extension agreed to drop their administrative appeals.

Construction already has begun on the paved trail reaching from Baltimore County to Howard County, and it should be finished in about a year.

Both camps are declaring the settlement a win-win situation.

"We are delighted; this exceeds our wildest expectations," said Lee Walker Oxenham, a Sierra Club activist who argued that the trail would damage the sensitive river valley and promote commercial development by Wagandt and others.

But Wagandt, who for years has supported the creation of a historic corridor linking the river valley's old mill communities, said the trail "is going to benefit the people of this community. They're the winners."

But he couldn't resist one last dig at the other side.

"It's amazing how one person with a few cohorts can hold things up."

A Lean, 'Lucky' Year Schools cut more than $1.5 million. The Police Department trimmed almost $1 million. Even the Health Department got into the act by slashing $200,000. Added together, the Howard County government cut almost $9.4 million from its budget last year.

And that, said county officials, kept Executive James N. Robey from tapping the emergency "rainy day" fund to make up a budget shortfall in an election year.

Robey announced in September that he wouldn't have to use the fund. That prompted County Council member Christopher J. Merdon (R-Northeast County) to request a breakdown of the department trims, which he said reveal some "fluff" in the original budget requests.

"It certainly will be something we raise as an issue next budget season," he said.

The bulk of the savings came from keeping vacant positions open, cutting back travel and postponing routine maintenance, said Raymond S. Wacks, the county's budget director.

A mild winter, without much snow, also helped because public work crews, and police didn't have to work overtime as they have in the past, he said.

"We were vigilant and lucky," he said.

Staff writer Mary Otto also contributed to this report.