After spearheading the movement that killed County Executive James N. Robey's transfer tax proposal, Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer (D-Howard) finds himself handling an even bigger fiscal quandary. The soft-spoken and studious politician, who has served in the Maryland Senate for 13 years, was tapped last week by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Prince George's) to head a new subcommittee on slots.

Senate leaders have criticized Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich's slots proposal as a poorly crafted giveaway to horse racing interests and not a strong funding source for schools. Kasemeyer told The Washington Post last week that the Senate is "basically starting from scratch. I don't think anything [Ehrlich] did had any significance, at least not in terms of what we're doing."

Kasemeyer, the Senate's deputy majority leader, led the Howard legislative delegation's tabling of Robey's proposal on the transfer tax. Robey (D) had wanted to raise the tax on home sales a half-percent to help pay for school construction, but Kasemeyer argued that local education funding should have a broader base.

Crime Decreases in 2002

In a year of a region-wide sniper manhunt, terrorism alerts and snow emergencies, Howard County remained a pretty safe place.

Reports of violent crime dropped nearly 10 percent last year from 2001, according to statistics compiled by police. A decrease in aggravated assaults was the main factor, with 202 reported incidents last year compared with 271 the previous year. Homicides remained low, with seven in 2002 and five in 2001.

Property crime incidents dropped more than 7 percent, police said. Burglaries were down 18 percent, to 289 incidents. Thefts decreased 5.5 percent, but reports of stolen cars edged up 5 percent.

Police spokeswoman Sherry Llewellyn said officials credit community policing. Thanks to state grants and county funds during the past several years, police have opened offices in Harper's Choice and Long Reach shopping centers in Columbia and in North Laurel. That has resulted in increased patrols and citizen participation.

"We are very strategic when we address crime," Llewellyn said. "These numbers reflect those efforts."

Sharing the Wealth

A benefit that had people standing in line to get into a popular Columbia restaurant raised an estimated $14,000 this week for a special academic program at Howard Community College.

Owner Joseph Chen and his family offered a lavish buffet at their Hunan Manor Restaurant at 7091 Deepage Dr. on Monday from 5 to 8:30 p.m. for more than 400 people who paid $35 a person. The proceeds of the fundraiser were donated to the Silas Craft Collegians Program, an intensive degree program designed to spur greater academic success by recent high school graduates.

The Hunan Manor fundraiser, held for the last four years, has annually drawn SRO-only crowds and raised a total of about $60,000 for Silas Craft Collegians, named for a longtime African American educator in Howard. This year, college officials thanked the restaurant by giving it a special award for its efforts.

"A lot of kids really can't afford to go to college," said Robert Foo, assistant general manager at Hunan Manor. "Since we are making a little profit, we share a little with them."

Restrain the Borrowing

The Howard County Spending Affordability Committee has recommended the county borrow "no more than $70 million" to help balance the budget and rejected as too costly a proposal to borrow up to $100 million.

Raymond S. Wacks, the county's budget director, said that in these tough times the county could use more money, but he deemed the recommendation "reasonable." The county has a debt load of about $412 million. If County Executive James N. Robey decides to borrow the additional $70 million, that shouldn't affect the county's triple-A bond rating, which allows the county to borrow money at a low interest rate, the committee said. But some members of the panel, which is made up of citizens and county officials, felt that borrowing $100 million without raising taxes could jeopardize that top rating.

The panel's recommendation comes a few weeks before Robey is to present his budget to the County Council. Faced with a $50 million shortfall, Robey is considering raising both the property and income taxes.

Waiver for 5-Year-Olds

The Howard County Board of Education voted last week to allow children who turn 5 years old before the end of the year to start kindergarten in August as schools slowly phase in a state-mandated early cutoff date.

The new state law requires students enrolling in kindergarten this year to be 5 by Nov. 30. The school board unanimously decided to grant waiver requests for children with late birthdays this year only.

Next year, the cutoff will be Oct. 31. The date moves up to Sept. 30 in 2005. By 2006, all students who enter kindergarten must be 5 by Sept. 1.

Staff writers Susan DeFord and Ylan Q. Mui contributed to this report.