Howard desperately needs more money to help build schools and add classrooms, County Executive James N. Robey (D) says.

So Robey, as expected, announced Monday that he will ask Howard's General Assembly delegation this year to seek an increase in the county's transfer tax.

"The continuing rise in enrollment, combined with the precariousness of state aid to local jurisdictions and my ongoing commitment to debt management, makes it clear that the county needs to find other sources of revenue," he said in a statement.

Robey's proposal to raise the tax from 1 percent of real estate sales to 1.5 percent comes as the Board of Education is seeking a record $86.3 million for school construction and renovation, about $31 million more than it received from the county in this year's budget.

Robey's plan would raise an additional $10 million a year, earmarked for school construction.

Whether the proposal will be embraced by county legislators still isn't clear.

"I'm glad the executive is looking at new revenue sources for the needed school construction," said Del. Elizabeth Bobo (D-Howard). "And I think that [the transfer tax] is worth looking at. But I'm not sure it's the best way to do it."

Where's the Plow Cam?

At no time is the county government watched more closely by its residents than during a snowstorm when workers try to clear the roads quickly.

Confident of its performance, Howard County is showcasing its plow performance on the Internet, at www.co.ho.md.us. During a storm, the site will present a color-coded street map indicating which roads in the county have been plowed and salted. The map, which is updated every 13 minutes, even pinpoints where the plows are.

Environmental Pressures

A coalition of local environmental groups is pressuring Robey to better protect open space, provide more money for parks and recreation and keep storm water from polluting rivers and streams.

"Planning documents gathering dust on bookshelves offer mere platitudes," the group said in a statement. "Action speaks louder than words."

The coalition -- which includes the Sierra Club, the Middle Patuxent Environmental Foundation and the Howard County Conservancy among others -- is making its plea even as the county struggles with one of the tightest budgets in years. The group doesn't want the environment to get lost in the coming deluge of requests for money.

"Clearly there are so many interests out there -- education, public safety," said Raquel Sanudo, the county's chief administrative officer. "And these things have to be looked at in that context. But I don't think the administration has ignored the environment at all."

Agency Comings, Goings

One agency the administration is certain not to ignore is the Office for Children's Services. That's because it recently created the office, which will distribute grants and oversee foster care, day care programs and other children's services.

The county had provided all those services but never under the auspices of a specific department.

In another move, the administration shifted the Office of Substance Abuse from the Department of County Administration to the Health Department.

"These functions, which relate to the prevention and treatment of alcohol and drug abuse, have nothing to do with the role of the Department of County Administration," Robey said in a statement.

The move comes as the county is looking to establish a health officer position who would do nothing but oversee Howard's drug and alcohol abuse programs.

An Interim Appointment

Robey announced Tuesday that Marsha McLaughlin will take over as interim director of the county's Planning and Zoning Department when long-time director Joseph Rutter leaves next week.

McLaughlin has worked for the county for 27 years and is the department's deputy director. Rutter announced last month that he was leaving Howard to head Anne Arundel County's planning department.

Robey and his staff will begin reviewing applications tomorrow from a nationwide search for a permanent director. He hopes to have the position filled by mid-March.