A move to slow housing growth in Howard's rural west failed to pass the County Council last week. The proposal, debated at the council's last meeting before its August recess, was part of a housing chart that allocates how many units can be built each year in parts of the county. The Department of Planning and Zoning had proposed shifting 100 units out of the rural west and using them for affordable housing in the east.

Christopher J. Merdon (R-Northeast County) successfully pushed his argument that the housing shift should be part of a broader county strategy on affordable housing.

"We're putting the cart before the horse by changing the allocation," he said. "The first step should be amending the general plan."

"The affordable east -- that's an oxymoron to me," said David A. Rakes (D-East Columbia), who voted to support the idea last month but switched sides to defeat the measure, joining Merdon and Charles C. Feaga (R-West County). Rakes's action didn't sit well with fellow Democrat Ken Ulman (West Columbia), who said, "This is one big funny experiment in government up here."

New Budget Chief On Board

Jonathan Seeman, 54, a widely experienced government official, has taken over as Howard County's new budget director.

"I'm very happy to be here," Seeman said Tuesday, his second day on the job. He replaces 30-year veteran Raymond Wacks, who retired from the post in March.

Seeman's last job was budget director for the Prince George's County public schools, where he was known as a "very experienced, detail-oriented manager" with a talent for clarifying the complexities of the annual school spending plan, said school system spokesman John White.

"He did an outstanding job of presenting the budget in a way that anybody in the audience could understand," White said.

Seeman has had a long career in government. He served as a budget analyst in Prince George's in the 1980s and then, after Prince George's County Executive Parris N. Glendening was elected governor, he served in several high-level state jobs. After Glendening left office, Seeman returned to Prince George's and the school post.

He said he believes his job transcends politics and is not worried about his position once Howard County Executive James N. Robey reaches the end of his final term in 16 months.

"I'm really a public administrator," Seeman said. "I've worked for many administrations in different capacities."

Taxi Fares Rise in County

The cost of taking a taxi in Howard went up this month as the result of a fare increase approved last week by the County Council.

The five-member board unanimously approved a rate schedule that included higher mileage rates and new surcharges that will apply to the four taxi companies that operate in the county. The last rate increase was in 1999, and since then the price of gasoline has more than doubled, county officials said.

Under the new rate schedule, the fare remains at $1.90 for the first three-eighths mile, then increases for each additional one-eighth mile from 15 cents to 22 cents. Council members also approved a new gasoline surcharge of 50 cents, although cab companies had sought a 90-cent surcharge. Council administrator Sheila Tolliver said a 10-mile in-county trip will cost $21.54, up from $14.95. A three-mile trip will cost $6.92, an increase of $1.97.