With the unwelcome arrival of property tax bills this month, Charles County residents also are receiving a reminder to apply for a tax credit before Sept. 1.

The county commissioners voted in May to expand local eligibility for an existing state credit to try to provide some tax relief from surging property assessments. Homeowners with household incomes of up to $50,000 and property valued at $300,000 or less qualify for the credit.

Charles County also limits annual increases in residential property taxes to no more than 10 percent; but even with that ceiling, the rapid rise in property values has led to an outcry from residents. The most recent assessments increased an average of 47 percent over three years.

Taxpayers of any age can apply for the credit, and the "property tax savings can be in the several hundreds of dollars," said Richard Winkler, the county's fiscal services director.

He has projected that the number of people eligible will increase from 592 to at least 1,000 and that the credits will range from $750 to $850.

Forms and instructions are available at the Treasurer's Office at the County Government Building or at the La Plata office of the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation, 101 Catalpa Dr., Suite 101A.

For more information or assistance, call the county Fiscal Services Department at 301-645-0570 or the state assessment office at 301-932-2440 or visit www.dat.state.md.us.

Hearing Notification

The St. Mary's County commissioners are considering an amendment to the local zoning ordinance that would require the county to mail a notification about any public hearing on an issue that could change the zoning district or base development density on a resident's property.

The text amendment, proposed by commissioners President Thomas F. McKay (R-At Large), would require that, at least 15 days before a public hearing on any potential zoning change, the county send a notification letter by certified mail to all property owners whose land is being considered as part of the change. The applicant seeking such a zoning change would have to provide the county planning director with the names and addresses of all property owners within the affected area.

McKay said some residents who were affected by the recent decision to retain the current boundaries of the Lexington Park Development District complained that they were unaware of the public hearing on the issue. Currently, the county is required to advertise public hearings in a local newspaper once a week for two consecutive weeks before the meeting.

Hunting Changes

Beginning this fall, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources is changing how hunters will check in their game. Deer and turkey hunters will no longer be required to go to a traditional check station but will register their kills online at www.gamecheck.dnr.state.md.us or by calling 888-800-0121.

Licenses for the 2005-06 hunting season went on sale this month.

The changes in the check-in are intended to provide more convenience for hunters and more data on the game harvest to DNR.

In its announcement of the new check-in procedures, DNR said it will continue its long-standing relationship with the former check station operators by providing incentives for hunters to visit the retail stores associated with the traditional stations. Operators of those businesses, often convenience stores and hunting supply outlets, have criticized check-in changes proposed or tested in the past as a threat to the sales volume generated by hunters.

Hunters will receive a copy of the 2005-06 Guide to Hunting and Trapping in Maryland when they purchase their Maryland hunting license. Pages 26 and 27 in this publication provide step-by-step instructions for registering big game. Worksheets also are provided so that each hunter can be prepared before calling or going online.

Greenpeace Protest

Speakers at two hearings on proposed limits on the Chesapeake Bay's menhaden catch generally favored controls, which will be considered next month by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.

Before then, Greenpeace activists plan to take a floating protest to the waters outside Omega Protein in Reedville, Va. The Houston-based company employs 250 people in the processing of the fish into products including animal feed and health supplements.

Greenpeace oceans specialist John Hocevar of Austin said the peaceful protest is planned for Saturday off Reedville, which is just south and across the mouth of the Potomac River from Point Lookout.

Residents of the small fishing port, many employed by Omega, are skeptical.

"It's not a good subject around Reedville right now," said Ronnie Jett, a member of the Northumberland County Board of Supervisors and owner of a seafood business.

Jett said he saw strangers who he assumed were Greenpeace members launch an inflatable boat near his business recently. "They looked like burnt-out hippies to me," Jett said. "They've been around here a week or so now, riding around taking pictures."

The fisheries process menhaden into fish meal and oil. Menhaden money built Reedville in the years after the Civil War, and the catch still defines the town.

Omega's annual landings, supplemented by a thriving fishery for menhaden used as bait, regularly make tiny Reedville the third-biggest U.S. port in terms of fish landings.

Saltwater anglers value the menhaden as the chief forage for striped bass and other species sought by sportsmen. Hocevar told the Associated Press that he thinks some Chesapeake Bay anglers and charter boat captains will join the protest flotilla, weather permitting.

But he said he doesn't know how many people or boats to expect. The Virginia Marine Police plan to be on hand, said Col. Steve Bowman.

Back-to-School Drive

The Tri-County Youth Services Bureau Inc. is sponsoring a back-to-school drive until Aug. 17 to benefit Mount Hope/Nanjemoy Elementary School in Charles County.

The organization is seeking donations of school supplies for use by students at the school. Supplies particularly needed include pens, pencils, paper, spiral notebooks, binders, folders, backpacks, highlighters and scissors.

Supplies may be dropped off at the school, at Charles County locations of the Community Bank of Tri-County or at the Educational Systems Employees Federal Credit Union in Waldorf, the agency said.

The Youth Services Bureau offers prevention programs related to juvenile delinquency, suicide, and drug and alcohol use. It also provides school-based early intervention counseling services in all Charles County public elementary schools.

For more information about the school supply drive or other services, contact Bonita McClure at 301-843-2960.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.