Looks as if Howard County households had a little less money in 2004 than in 2003.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported this week that Howard was the fifth-wealthiest county in the country, based on a median household income of $82,065 in 2004. That puts Howard just below Montgomery County, which had a median household income of $82,971 last year, according to the bureau's annual American Community Survey. The highest-ranked in the nation was Fairfax County, with a median household income of $88,133.

In the 2003 American Community Survey, Howard ranked second in the country for household income, at $88,555. In 2002, Howard was ranked fifth wealthiest, behind Montgomery and Fairfax. The survey is available at www.census.gov.

Farmland Plan Meeting

The effort to protect more farmland in the county is prompting "a fairly high anxiety level," Marsha S. McLaughlin, director of the Howard Department of Planning and Zoning, said this week.

McLaughlin told a newly appointed committee of west county landowners, developers, land-use lawyers and homebuilders that she hopes the group can strike a balance between protecting landowners' property rights and preserving more farmland.

The panel was assembled after western residents complained vigorously last month about the department's proposal to reduce residential density on land zoned "rural conservation." County officials worry they're losing too much prime farmland to development, so they want to make it less attractive to build there.

Officials also are in a bit of a hurry. They'd like a recommendation from the panel in about a month.

Committee members said the county should give landowners more incentives to sell their development rights, which could then be sold and transferred to developers and used to build more densely elsewhere in the county.

Lawyer David Carney warned that there's simply not that much land left to develop, outside the west county, even if officials were to provide more incentives for landowners to sell their development rights.

"What do we do under those circumstances? What fair approach do we take? That's going to be the real test," Carney said.

McLaughlin told committee members that planners will return to the group's next meeting with computer models showing the impact of different zoning densities and what would result over time if no zoning changes occurred. The meeting ended after Edward Brown, a Woodbine-area racehorse trainer, spoke. Brown said he had asked his neighbors what he should tell the panel.

"All we want is the fair market value for our property," he said. "They just want to sell their property for what the market will bear."

Katrina Beckons Animal Rescuer

When disaster strikes, Allan Schwartz climbs into his truck and takes off hauling his livestock trailer.

Schwartz, co-founder of Days End Farm Horse Rescue in Lisbon, was called this week to help save animals caught in the path of Hurricane Katrina. Schwartz, who will work with officials from the Humane Society of the United States, was unsure Tuesday exactly where he was going but said he was told to "head in the direction of Mississippi."

Schwartz has helped with animal rescue after other hurricanes and flash floods. He frequently responds to local emergencies involving animals. His trailer is equipped with a 300-gallon water tank, a generator, slings for hoisting animals, medical supplies and portable fencing.

He said he expects to be on the scene for at least a couple of weeks. "We know it's pretty catastrophic," Schwartz said. "There's a lot of flooding."

Lisbon Teen Crowned Miss Agriculture

A 16-year-old Lisbon girl isn't just busy with school this week. She'll also be awarding prizes and meeting with fairgoers and dignitaries at the Maryland State Fair in Timonium, where she was named Miss Maryland Agriculture 2005 last week.

A junior at Glenelg High School, Rebecca Hamilton is a veteran 4-H Club member who lives on her family's five-acre livestock farm. This summer, she has traveled across the country as a member of the Maryland State B Team that won the Virginia Tech livestock judging contest.

Rebecca won a scholarship and cash awards valued at up to $9,000. Throughout the year, she'll participate in several events representing Maryland agriculture.

Miss Howard County Farm Bureau 2004 Emma Bullock, 18, of Ellicott City, top, congratulates the 2005 champ, Rebecca Hamilton, who went on to become Miss Maryland Agriculture 2005.