The Columbia Association's newly approved $7.8 million capital budget for 2004 earmarks money to spruce up tot lots in five communities, renovate village center buildings in Wilde Lake and Owen Brown, refurbish Historic Oakland in Town Center and complete pathways in River Hill.

But the item that has stirred the most passion is the $864,000 budgeted for rebuilding 16 greens and renovating the clubhouse at Hobbit's Glen Golf Course.

"I think we're throwing good money after bad," contended longtime golfer Walter Morgan, who's part of a group of activists who continue to blame the problems at the golf course on poor management.

Rob Goldman, vice president and director of the association's sports and fitness division, said he is "very confident" about the plan to rebuild the greens at Hobbit's.

"When you look at cross-sections of the soil, you can see it's a structural issue," Goldman said.

When Hobbit's was constructed in 1967, he said, "the greens were not built to specifications." Nearly 30 years later, Columbia's newer golf course, Fairway Hills, met professional standards. The same people take care of both courses, Goldman said. "The greens are perfect at Fairway Hills.''

Under the plan, Hobbit's Glen is scheduled to close for repairs in August and reopen in May 2004.

Following Flanagan

As early as next week, the Howard County Republican Central Committee could vote on a successor to Del. Robert L. Flanagan (R-Howard), who is expected to vacate his House seat once he is confirmed by the state Senate as the state's new transportation secretary.

On Monday night, members of the county's GOP gathered to interview six possible candidates: Carol Arscott, a pollster; Richard Bernhardt, an attorney; Charles Feaga, a former County Council member; Warren Miller, a GOP committee member; John S. Taylor, an attorney; and Tommie Tarsell, the founder of an insurance brokerage.

Louis M. Pope, chairman of the county's GOP, said the committee would wait for Flanagan's confirmation before voting on his replacement. Miller, a member of the committee, would not have to recuse himself from the voting, Pope said. But Miller has agreed not to take part in the committee's discussions so that it could talk freely about his candidacy.

Flanagan was reelected to a four-year term in November. His successor would finish out that term.

What's Up With Cook?

What's going on with the reappointment of Barbara M. Cook, who has been the county's solicitor since 1986?

Last month, the vote on her appointment was tabled. And on Tuesday, she met with council members privately.

"The only thing I can say is that it's a personnel issue, and the council had some concerns that we wanted to discuss further," said council member Christopher Merdon (R-Northeast County).

On Tuesday morning, Cook confirmed that she had been called to meet with council members, but she wouldn't say what the meeting was about. She does however, have the support of County Executive James N. Robey. "We put her nomination forth," said Victoria Goodman, the executive's spokeswoman.

The council is expected to vote on her appointment Monday night, when some light may be shed on what was going on behind closed doors.

Budgets Snowed Under

What a couple of years. Tornadoes, then drought, then Code Orange terrorist alerts, then a massive snowstorm. It's all beginning to wear on county employees -- and it's taking it's toll on the budget, too.

The county has overspent its snow removal allocation by about $1 million, which included digging out a mudslide on Toll House Road in Ellicott City last week.

And now forecasters are calling for more snow today .

"We're all keeping our fingers crossed," Goodman said. "We're a little punch-drunk from the snow."

On Monday, the council is scheduled to vote to transfer $750,000 from a contingency fund to help with snow removal costs.

It also is expected to vote on a bill that would ban tobacco companies from distributing their products for free at summertime concerts.

Council member Ken Ulman (D-West Columbia) introduced the bill, which is co-sponsored by the four other members of the council, after he learned that companies were giving away packs of cigarettes during concerts at Merriweather Post Pavilion.