Howard County Executive James N. Robey (D) and the local Association of Realtors are hoping for a big turnout for tonight's public hearing -- but for different reasons.

Robey wants residents to support his proposed increase of the county's property transfer tax when Howard's legislative delegation gathers in the George Howard Building at 7:30 p.m. His plan to increase the tax from 1 percent to 1.5 percent must be approved by the General Assembly.

His staff estimates the tax increase would generate $10 million a year, which would be used to pay school construction bonds. It's the most fair tax to impose, says Robey, because the growth in school enrollment is coming from families moving into new and existing houses.

The Realtors have been highly visible in their opposition, taking out full-page newspaper ads and declaring on their Web site that Howard would be "taxing home sales at the highest rate in Maryland." The association is urging homeowners to show up for the hearing.

The county's 11-member legislative delegation is scheduled to vote Wednesday in Annapolis on whether to support Robey's measure.

Focusing on Peeping Toms

Peeping Toms have prompted a bill to toughen electronic surveillance laws.

Under current Maryland law, clandestine video surveillance is treated as a misdemeanor, with a maximum jail sentence of six months and a $1,000 fine. But Del. Neil F. Quinter (D-Howard) is planning to introduce legislation making the offense a felony punishable by a maximum five-year sentence and $10,000 fine.

Quinter, who represents District 13, drafted the bill at the request of the Howard state's attorney's office, which, during the last two years, has prosecuted two cases of men installing concealed video cameras in bathrooms in Elkridge and Laurel.

"What we're doing is making the penalties for video surveillance equal to penalties for eavesdropping or wiretapping," Quinter said. "Videotaping is at least as intrusive as audiotaping."

Columbia Lore and More

Attention, Columbia residents.

Ever wonder why you live on Burnt Mountain Path instead of, say, plain old Elm Street?

"There's a lot of lore around Columbia and what happened," said Missy Burke, a freelance writer who's researching a book for the Columbia Archives on the community's imaginative street names. "Some little old lady bent over a book late at night -- a little bit of that's true, but it's not all true."

Burke is soliciting stories from Columbia residents for her project, as well as documenting the artists or literary works that were used as sources for street names. Archivist Robin Emrich said the project will re-introduce people to the original concept of Columbia.

The Columbia Archives also is reintroducing itself to the community, with a reception at 4:30 p.m. today in its new location on the first floor of the American City Building at Town Center. The archives moved from its second-floor offices in the Columbia Association building on Wincopin Circle in December.

"We feel it's turned out to be a really good move for us," said Barbara Kellner, archives manager. "We're just more visible."

Year of the Kittleman

Two ancient traditions collided Friday night: the celebration of the 4700th Lunar New Year and state Sen. Robert H. Kittleman's 77th birthday.

Kittleman (R-Howard) rang in the Year of the Goat at the Columbia Chinese Baptist Church with his family, including his son, County Council member Alan H. Kittleman (R-West County). During dinner, more than 100 members of the Chinese community serenaded the senator with two versions of "Happy Birthday" -- first in Chinese, then in English.

"We won't ask him how old he is," said a speaker, as a cake with a smattering of candles was brought out.

No worries: Sen. Kittleman blew out all the candles, then had two slices of cake.

"You're only as old as you feel," he said.