Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Graduation Sched Finally Released...

From HoCo schools:

Commencement Schedule 2009

All high school ceremonies will be held at Merriweather Post Pavilion.

Tuesday, May 26

12:00 noon Atholton (close at 10:45 a.m.)

4:00 p.m. Mt. Hebron High School

8:00 p.m. Centennial High School

Wednesday, May 27

12:00 noon Oakland Mills High School (close at 10:45 a.m.

4:00 p.m. Wilde Lake High School

8:00 p.m. Howard High School

Thursday, May 28

12:00 noon Hammond High School (close at 10:45 a.m.)

4:00 p.m. Glenelg High School

8:00 p.m. Reservoir High School

Friday, May 29

8:00 a.m. River Hill High School (open at 10:30 a.m.)

11:30 a.m. Marriotts Ridge High School (close at 10:45 a.m.)

4:00 p.m. Long Reach High School

Cedar Lane School not yet scheduled.

Posted by the HCPSS Public Information Office

HoCo To Build Two Fire Stations...

...and hire more 911 operators after finding out that response times are not what they should be, according to this Sun story.

New fire stations will be located in Glenwood and Mayfield. The latter facility will be located temporarily at the Mayfield Highway Maintenance Shop until the county finalizes a deal to purchase land at Route 175 and U.S. 1.

The new stations will be scaled-down versions of typical fire stations, officials said. The facilities will cost between $3 million and $4 million each, compared with between $10 million and $15 million for stations that usually include a community center and are outfitted with more equipment and more firefighters.

Monday, March 30, 2009

General Growth's Future Grows Gloomier

Chicago-based General Growth, owner of the mall, did not meet a deadline to work out a deal with the holders of debt associated with the former Rouse Co, and talks continue. From WaPo:

By Dana Hedgpeth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 30, 2009; 9:48 AM

General Growth, the huge shopping mall owner that is struggling to avoid bankruptcy and is late in its debt payments, said today that it is continuing discussions with bond holders.

The company said in a statement that it did not achieve the minimum acceptance levels for a previously announced deal, which expired Friday. Some of the company's lenders have already moved to foreclose on its properties.

General Growth, based in Chicago, has nearly $30 billion in debt. It has been trying to get loan extensions and raise cash by selling some malls. It has gotten rid of its chief financial officer and suspended its dividend. Rating agencies have downgraded its credit ratings.

Some retail analysts predict the company is teetering on declaring bankruptcy. If it does so, that would be among the largest real estate downfalls in U.S. history.

The company owns and manages more than 200 regional shopping malls in 44 states. It owns Fashion Show in Las Vegas, Water Tower Place in Chicago and Faneuil Hall in Boston. Locally, it owns Landmark Mall in Alexandria, Tysons Galleria in McLean and Laurel Commons in Laurel.

The 50-year-old company was started by the Bucksbaum brothers, who were grocers. In the real estate market's boom years, General Growth used debt to aggressively buy properties. Its biggest acquisition came in 2004 when it paid nearly $13 billion for the Rouse Co., known for creating Columbia.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Jogger Talks About Attack

The Sun has an interview with Will Iberg, the man who was stabbed while jogging in Running Brook. The piece is chilling in describing how random the whole incident appears to be.

About 9:30 p.m., Iberg had passed a group of about 10 teenagers when he noticed one of them jogging behind him. No words were exchanged, and Iberg said that he didn't feel threatened.

Suddenly, Iberg said he felt he had been punched in the lower back. He kept running before realizing that he had been stabbed with a knife.

"I thought it was a punch until I looked; it was really bloody," Iberg recalled. "When you're finishing a long run, you have so much adrenaline and endorphins going. My gut instinct was to find someone to help."

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Beware "Sexting"

Do we have your attention again? Here's a message from HoCo police posted on the school system's e-mail newsletter....

Parents of all middle and school students,

The Howard County Police Department wants to make you aware of a practice known as "sexting" that has been increasing in among area teenagers. "Sexting" involves teens using cell phones to send sexually charged materials like photos or videos of themselves to others, usually boyfriends or girlfriends.

It has become common for these images to be forwarded from the intended recipient to others and, in some cases, posted on the Internet. Some of these cases already have been brought to the attention of school administrators and the police department.

The police and school officials are concerned that Howard County is seeing similar “sexting” patterns as those being observed around the nation. Nationally, 39 percent of teens are sending or posting sexually suggestive messages, and 48 percent reported receiving such messages, according to a recent national study.

Many teens do not understand the risk posed by this practice. We are sharing this information so as parents you can be aware of this behavior and we are urging you to talk with your teen. Please let them know that this behavior is not only unhealthy and dangerous, it may be criminal. Teens involved in sending or receiving these types of images of anyone under the age of 18 could face child pornography charges. Penalties are serious, with fines of up to $10,000, ten years in prison, or both.

Our goal is not to arrest and charge teens, although in some cases such charges may be appropriate. But we do want to significantly reduce the practice of "sexting" in our teenage population. We think this can only be accomplished with parental involvement and we are asking for your help as our partners in this effort.

We are encouraging you to check your child's cell phone and e-mail account for content of this nature. If you believe your child, or any other, may be a victim of this practice, we encourage you to save the images and call the Howard County Police Department at 410-313-2200.

For more information, parents and teens can go here.

HoCo Beer Map

Now that we have your attention, check out the Baltimore Beer Guy for a listing of establishments serving beer.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Arbitron Announces Layoffs

Our newest corporate nameplate, Arbitron, which recently announced plans to move to Columbia, is laying off 10 percent of its workforce because of the slowdown in the economy, according to this Sun story.

Under the plan, 110 full-time positions, including 80 in the Baltimore area, would be eliminated, company spokesman Thom Mocarsky said in phone interview.

About 71percent, or 767, of the company's 1,084 full-time employees work in Columbia, where the company moved its headquarters this month. About 56 percent, or 269, of the company's 484 part-time workers work at the 275,000-square-foot campus.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

General Growth Seeks More Time

General Growth has yet to receive enough consents from its Rouse Co. debtholders (otherwise known as owners of TRCLPs) to give it more time to work out its financial troubles.

As of 5:00 p.m. on March 20, 2009, consents had been validly delivered (and not validly revoked) with respect to the following amounts of TRCLP Notes:

3.625% Notes due 2009: $165,801,000 42.0%

8% Notes due 2009: $134,784,000 67.4%

7.20% Notes due 2012: $340,058,000 85.0%

5.373% Notes due 2013: $310,930,000 69.1%

6 3/4 Notes due 2013: $625,410,000 79.5%

“In light of the fact that during the initial extension of the consent solicitation, we received an increased level of consents from bondholders in all series and due to difficulties that we understand some holders experienced in obtaining the consent solicitation materials, we have decided to extend the solicitation for an additional period,” said Adam Metz, CEO. “We continue to believe that giving the Company time to work with its creditors to develop a comprehensive restructuring plan without the threat and distraction of ongoing defaults is in the best interests of the Company and all of its constituencies.”

The minimum acceptance levels for each series of the TRCLP Notes are: 90% of the 3.625% Notes due 2009 and the 8% Notes due 2009; 75% of the 7.20% Notes due 2012, the 5.375% Notes due 2013 and the 6 3/4% Notes due 2013. Holders of TRCLP Notes who have previously validly delivered consents will continue to have the right to revoke their consents through the extended expiration date.

The Main Street Curfew

Our Main Street, the Mall in Columbia, is going dark one hour earlier, according to this bit of news from the Sun.

The mall is shutting down at 9p Monday through Saturday and 6p on Sunday, providing yet more evidence for why we need a better focal point for nightlife downtown.

We know one teenager who won't be happy.

Financially troubled General Growth Properties told merchants at several of its malls Monday that it will cut from a half-hour to two hours off its daily operating times beginning in May. It follows mall companies Simon Property Group and Westfield, which previously announced they are closing malls earlier and opening later. Baltimore County's Security Square Mall also recently reduced its hours.

Retailers such as Barnes & Noble bookstores and Bloomingdale's are also cutting hours.

Industry experts said retailers and malls are looking for ways to respond to declines in customer traffic and sales resulting from the recession. The holiday season was the worst in at least 40 years, and research firm Retail Forward forecasts a grim outlook of flat to negative growth across most retail stores through most of this year.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Man Dies While Fixing Car

From HoCo PD:

A 69-year-old Columbia man was killed today while working on his car at home. The car, a BMW M3, rolled out of the man’s driveway in the 5100 block of Columbia Rd. and ran over the victim when he tried to stop it.

Police believe the victim, Michael Kim, was alone at the time of the incident.

Update On The St. Pat's DUI Checks

From HoCo PD:

The Howard County Department of Police conducted a Sobriety Checkpoint between Friday, March 20, 2009 and Saturday, March 21, 2009. The checkpoint was established on northbound US Rt. 1 near North Laurel Road, in Laurel, Howard County.

Approximately 549 vehicles passed through the checkpoint, which was manned by Howard County Police Officers, with support from members of the Howard County Chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (M.A.D.D.).

Eight (8) vehicles were pulled over for further examination and five (5) drivers were arrested and charged with Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol or Driving While Impaired by Alcohol or Drugs. One additional driver was arrested in a stolen vehicle, one additional driver was arrested on a warrant for Failure to Appear in Court and one additional driver was arrested for driving without a driver’s license. An arrest of a subject in possession of a Controlled Dangerous Substance was also made.

Graduation Limbo

No, that's not some fancy new tropic inspired flexibility lesson...that's what parents like us here at Columbia Talk headquarters find ourselves in as we try to find out when-oh-when Young Man Talk might walk across the stage.

From what we hear this is a yearly dance the HoCo school system goes through with dear old Merriweather, where county schools insist on holding their graduation ceremonies. The folks at the concert pavilion can by contract wait until April 15 to tell the schools when they can share the stage. So parents and out-of-town guests just have to cool their heels.

Which seems odd to us...why keep families in the dark about what arguably should be most important date, the culmination of a student's K-12 career?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Update: Police Make Arrest In Stabbing

From HoCo PD:

Howard County police arrested a suspect last night hours after a non-fatal stabbing in Columbia. Vernon Leroy Costley, 19, of no fixed address, was charged with attempted second-degree murder, first- and second-degree assault and reckless endangerment.

Police responded to the 5700 block of Columbia Road around 9:30 p.m. for a report of a man knocking on doors asking for help. The victim, 24-year-old William Iberg of Elkridge, was located by police and transported to Shock Trauma for a stab wound to his torso.

Iberg told police he was jogging on Columbia Road when he passed a group of approximately 10 male teens. He reported that one of the teens ran up to him and struck him. Iberg said he realized he was bleeding and went to nearby homes to ask for help. He told police there was not an altercation before the attack.

Police immediately deployed officers into the area. Investigators quickly gathered information that Costley was likely the suspect involved. They located him at a relative’s home in the 5200 block of Brook Way. The resident consented to a search of the home and police recovered a knife believed to have been used in the stabbing. After conducting interviews and gathering additional information, detectives arrested Costley without incident around 11:40 p.m.

Costley is being held at the Howard County Detention Center on $300,000 bond. Iberg was released from Shock Trauma this morning.

Police Investigate Running Brook Stabbing

From HoCo PD:

Howard County police are investigating a stabbing that occurred in the area of Columbia Road near Brook Way tonight.

At approximately 9:30 p.m., police responded to the 5700 block of Columbia Road for a report of a man knocking on doors asking for help. The victim, whose identity is not known at this time, was located by police and flown by helicopter to Shock Trauma for a non-life-threatening stab wound to his torso.

Investigators have limited information at this time. Additional information will be released as it becomes available.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Schools Limit Class Fees

From a school system newsletter:

Parents should notice a decrease in the number of requests for money coming from schools next year as a result of new procedures for assessing activity fees and developing school supplies lists. Effective for the 2009-2010 school year, schools may not charge activity fees or science insurance fees. Schools will be allowed to charge for the following:

• Field trip expenses to cover only the student’s actual cost to attend.
> • A fee of $15 for a high school parking pass.
> • A fee of $4 for each official transcript.
> • A per-page copy fee for copies of student records (currently $.20 per page).
> • The cost of personal items kept by the student after participation in extra-curricular athletic and performance programs, the cost of personalized items imprinted with the student’s name, and the cost of maintaining items (e.g., dry cleaning marching band uniforms).

Fees also may be charged by outside organizations for their services (e.g., Advanced Placement, SAT, and academic and industry certifications).

Parameters have also been developed for elementary, middle, and high school student supply lists to assure that school and classroom needs are being met adequately and equitably. The school system’s fiscal year 2010 Operating Budget Request includes additional funds of $300,000 in supplies and materials to support the implementation of these procedures.

Concerns raised by parents and others, led school-based and central office staff to collect and review information about fees parents are currently asked to pay and materials and supplies they are asked to provide. Staff recognized the need for a more uniform and equitable system of assessing student fees.

View the full report on BoardDocs, 3/12/09 Meeting of the Board here.

HoCo Stops Biz Recycling Program

Chamber tries to pick up the slack....

Here's the gov't release:

The business recycling program in Howard County will transition from government-sponsored to private industry recycling beginning June 29, 2009. The Howard County Chamber of Commerce has developed a new recycling collection “co-op” based on the concept of combining buying power to negotiate lower costs for those who participate.

“I want to thank all the businesses that currently participate in our recycling program. While we budgeted $250,000 for the business recycling program this past year (and we had a waiting list of businesses wanting to participate,) today’s economy and our budget shortfall have made it impossible to continue this program for fiscal year 2010. I believe the option now being offered by the Chamber is a good one and also affordable for all the businesses that believe, as I do, that recycling is the responsible thing to do,” said County Executive Ken Ulman.

The last day for the business recycling program, which was started in 2003, will be Friday, June 26. Letters and information packets about the co-op and other recycling options have been sent to those businesses, private schools, churches, State agencies, and apartments that had previously participated in the County-sponsored program and will be affected by this transition.

The new program offered by the Chamber is open to all businesses and not limited to just Chamber members. “The Chamber of Commerce is built upon the core concept of many businesses coming together to accomplish what a singular business cannot. The recycling co-op is based on the same premise: bringing individual business owners together to procure recycling services at rates lower than any single member can purchase on his or her own. This model is working well with our Energy Co-Op…members are saving as much as one full month’s bill. We believe so strongly in the importance of recycling that we have decided to open this to all businesses in Howard County who want to do the right thing,” said Pam Klahr, President and CEO of the Howard County Chamber of Commerce.

The Department of Public Works, Bureau of Environmental Services, will continue to provide technical support and guidance to anyone interested in learning more about how to establish a business recycling program. Contact the County’s Recycling Division, at 410-313-6444, to speak to one of the Recycling Coordinators.
For more information about the Howard County Chamber’s recycling co-op program, visit the chamber's Web site or call 410-730-4111.

The Eco-Mall

The Mall recently put out a statement about its eco-friendliness...it made us wonder whether there might be additional steps our Main Street commons might take. What do you think?

In honor of Earth Day, The Mall in Columbia is celebrating our commitment to sustainability and is proud of what we are doing to maintain a healthy environment. Here’s a peek at what we are doing to make a difference...

Lighting Retrofits

If changing your light bulbs at home can have a positive impact on the environment, imagine the impact of changing the lighting fixtures and lamps in a shopping center...

The Mall in Columbia recently upgraded its lighting to be more energy efficient – one small change with big benefits. Our lighting retrofit is helping to…

...substantially reduce property energy consumption,
...produce less heat, further reducing energy use to cool the property,
…and cut costs because the lighting has a much longer life span than traditional incandescent lighting.

In fact, the new lighting at The Mall in Columbia is projected to save enough energy to power more than 64 U.S. households every year!

Demand Response Program

Did you know that The Mall in Columbia reduces energy use when the community’s electricity demand is high so that local small business and homes will not be without power?

The Mall in Columbia is committed to maintaining a healthy environment. One of the most meaningful ways we can make a positive environmental impact is through energy conservation. By participating in the local demand response program, we are helping to keep community lights on without having to build an additional power plant.

In addition, here's a link to the Eco-Stance of the Mall's owner, General Growth Properties.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Around the HoCo Blogosphere....

...we received this tweet from HoCoMoJo -- CA is experimenting with videotaping its meetings. You can see the results here. Check out the dude, er board member, in the hat at the start of the meeting. We couldn't get that tag line in the cartoon at the end of episodes of "House" out of our head.

"That's some bad hat, Harry."

Then, Jack over at the Columbia Blog Project, posted this video interview with General Growth's Greg Hamm. Jack asked some thoughtful questions; unfortunately the answers didn't reveal a whole lot.

If this keeps up, we're going to need our own Columbia TV channel and a theme song!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Wanted: Bank Robbers

From HoCo PD:

The Howard County Police Department and the FBI are investigating two recent bank robberies involving two armed suspects. Investigators are offering a combined reward of up to $12,500 for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of the men involved.

On March 6, two men wearing fake beards and hats walked into the Provident Bank in the 10400 block of Little Patuxent Parkway in Columbia and announced a robbery. The suspects, both armed with guns, forced the employees to give them an undisclosed amount of cash, and then fled. There were four employees at the bank at the time and no one was injured.

In an earlier case, two suspects, one of them the same as in the March 6 case, the other possibly the same, entered the Howard Bank in the 6000 block of University Blvd. in Ellicott City Jan. 2. The armed suspects announced a robbery, forced the employees to give them an undisclosed amount of cash, and then fled. There were three employees at the bank at the time and no one was injured.

Investigators are releasing photos of the suspects and asking anyone with information to call police at 410-313-3200. Callers may remain anonymous.

The combined reward is being offered by the Howard County Police Department, the FBI and Howard Bank.

See pictures here.

Cirque du Howard

We here at Columbia Talk central are huge fans of Cirque du Soleil, and never miss a show when the circus is in town. (Kooza is in Baltimore for a three-week run)

So we loved this story in the Sun. Turns out one of the show's jugglers got his start here in Howard. Anthony Gatto learned from father and went on to appear on the Tonight Show and set several Guiness Book records for number of objects and duration.

The elder Gatto was a retired vaudevillian who decided to impress his three stepchildren with a few juggling tricks from his old act as he supervised them at his tobacco shop on U.S. 40.

Under his dad's tutelage in 1976, the 3-year-old often launched brightly colored balls into the air from behind the counter at Pipes and Things in the old Chatham Mall, though he wasn't tall enough to peer over it.

Anthony, who said he broke more than a few Meerschaum pipes while practicing, had unwittingly embarked on his career at an age when many children are struggling with potty training.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Just In Time For St. Patrick's Day....

...comes this warning from HoCo PD:

The Howard County Police Department will conduct a sobriety checkpoint at an undisclosed location this week to promote awareness and reduce the number of alcohol-impaired drivers on the roads.

The checkpoint will be clearly marked with signs, lights and uniformed officers. Officers will be checking for violations such as driving under the influence of alcohol, failure to use seat belts and failure to use child safety seats.

The department conducts several checkpoints throughout the year, in addition to utilizing special enforcement details specifically targeting drunken and drugged drivers. Last year in Howard County, alcohol was a factor in eight fatal collisions, and 1,296 people were arrested for driving under the influence or driving while intoxicated.

By promoting awareness about the dangers of drinking and driving, police hope to reduce the number of drivers under the influence and related collisions and injuries. Police remind citizens to always designate a sober driver or refrain from drinking alcohol if they will be driving.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Ready For Some Real Local Politicking?

The school system is getting ready to review school boundaries, which should be an interesting exercise since the housing slowdown has played havoc with traditional assumptions about growth around here.

From the HoCo school system:

The Howard County Public School System is seeking members for a potential Attendance Area Adjustment Committee to the Superintendent. Redistricting may be under consideration for the 2010 - 2011 school year. Prospective plans must be reviewed by a committee comprised of 10-12 Howard County residents and may include one student.

Members are appointed by the Superintendent to advise and comment during the planning phase regarding Capital Budget and redistricting recommendations being developed by staff. If redistricting is deferred, the pool of citizens who have expressed interest will be retained for the following year.

All letters of interest and resumes must be received by Monday, May 4, 2009, at the following address:

Howard County Public School System
Office of School Planning
10910 Route 108
Ellicott City, MD 21042

For more information, call 410.313.1554 or send an email to jennifer_bubenko@hcpss.org.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Designs On Route 1

The HoCo planning department has released a new improved (draft) manual to guide design along the Route 1 corridor.

As someone who has had to dodge pedestrians walking down the side of the road on occasion, we appreciate this particular recommendation:

This Strategy recommends changes in the US 1 right-of-way width and streetscape such as better sidewalks and tree-lined medians.

The Little Media That Could....

Check out Wordbones latest post on how new media covered the planning board's recent hearing on town center redevelopment. We won't repeat all the links here because he handled it so well.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

DC To Share Info On Oak Hill

Oak Hill, DC's juvenile detention facility, is located near the NSA complex at Route 32 and Baltimore Washington Parkway.

This WaPo story says the District is compiling a list of 60 of the most serious juvenile offenders in detention and will share information on their backgrounds with police and some community groups before allowing the youths to return home, especially to high-crime neighborhoods.

Under the program announced yesterday by Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), organizations such as Peaceoholics will be asked to perform background checks on youths up for release from facilities such as Oak Hill. The goal is to determine whether neighborhood disputes might jeopardize the juvenile's chances for success after release and whether there are any threats against the juvenile or his family.

If significant concerns are raised, a youth's release could be delayed or he could be sent somewhere else.

The criteria for putting a youth on the most-serious list include previous convictions, behavior in confinement and runaway attempts.

We wonder if that information will also be shared with authorities in the communities near Oak Hill.

Rouse Trying To Buy Time...

...because it can't buy much else.

We're just catching up on this General Growth update. On Monday, the company that owns the mall and so much more in this town asked lenders to its Rouse subsidiary to give it more time to figure out how it might repay $2.25 billion in loans, according to this release.

...the Company has concluded that it is prudent to defer cash interest payments on its unsecured corporate debt obligations for the remainder of 2009 to provide liquidity while attempting to negotiate a consensual restructuring of its balance sheet.

That's fancy talk for "Hey, we don't have the money. Can we work something out?"

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

How Does Your Siding Hang?

There's apparently a little dust-up in Long Reach over a homeowner named Jim Rose who 16 years ago replaced his vertical wood siding with horizontal vinyl.

We took interest in this ExploreHoward post because we happened to also change the direction of our siding a few years back. We did it mostly because our contractor had a devil of a time finding vertical aluminum siding at a reasonable price. Really, we tried. But we guess they just don't make homes like they did in Columbia 40 years ago :)

Now, of course, we got permission in advance from our friendly, very professional and reasonable architectural review board (it helped that we brought photos of other homes in the wider neighborhood that had done something similar, to show we were not exactly setting a precedence).

Anyway from the post it seems the board ain't too happy about not being included in the decision-making:

Committee member Henry Dagenais, who also serves as the village’s representative on the Columbia Association Board of Directors, asked Rose why he didn’t ask for approval before installing the siding so long ago.

“It’s not going to be a decision everyone likes, no matter what we do,” Dagenais said. “The only thing that bothers me is you’ve lived here a long time and you knew the covenants existed. You should have followed them and then we wouldn’t be in this position. ... If we don’t follow the rules, then we need to pitch them out.”

Rose responded: “I imagine I thought it would be an OK thing to do,” because his street, Wingborne Court, includes houses with a mix of vertical and horizontal siding. Also, he said he felt something had to be done to fix his original siding, which rotted easily.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Arbitron Relocates Headquarters Here

We saw a blurb about this on HoCoMoJo. Here's the full release:

Arbitron Inc. (NYSE: ARB) announced today the company has moved its headquarters from New York City to Columbia, Maryland.

“I want to live and work where the operational core of our business resides,” said Michael Skarzynski, President and Chief Executive Officer. “Columbia is home to Arbitron’s state-of-the-art research campus and it’s important for me and our executives to work in the same location as the teams who are creating new solutions for our current customers and new services for our expanding markets.”

“Arbitron’s decision to move its headquarters to Maryland will build on the company's already significant presence here and add to the economic climate of our State,” said Governor Martin O'Malley. “Maryland is continuing to outperform the nation in many key economic indicators, which when combined with our highly educated workforce, gives Arbitron a unique competitive advantage to grow in today's ever-changing business climate.”

“The efforts of the State of Maryland and Howard County to foster a positive environment for local businesses were important factors in our decision to make Columbia our home base,” said Mr. Skarzynski. “We look forward to furthering our partnership with the state and the county as we grow our business and contribute to the local community and economy.”

The Arbitron headquarters office is located at the company’s existing facility at 9705 Patuxent Woods Drive, Columbia, Maryland. The headquarters building is one of six facilities totaling 275,000 square feet that are located in Howard County.
Since 1994, Columbia, Maryland has been the heart of Arbitron’s survey research, engineering and data collection/production operations. On a worldwide basis, the company employs 1,084 full-time and 484 part-time employees. Located in Maryland are 767 full-time employees representing 71 percent of Arbitron’s full-time workforce and 269 part-time employees or 56 percent of the company’s part-time workforce.
The New York City location will remain open and continue to operate as a sales office.

The other Arbitron U.S. offices and facilities in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Birmingham, Alabama and the facility in Kochi, India are not affected by the relocation of the company headquarters to Columbia, Maryland.
About Arbitron.

Arbitron Inc. (NYSE: ARB) is a media and marketing research firm serving the media – radio, television, cable, online radio and out-of-home – as well as advertisers and advertising agencies. Arbitron’s core businesses are measuring network and local market radio audiences across the United States; surveying the retail, media and product patterns of local market consumers; and providing application software used for analyzing media audience and marketing information data. The company has developed the Portable People MeterTM, a new technology for media and marketing research.

Arbitron’s headquarters and its world-renowned research and engineering organizations are located in Columbia, Maryland USA.

15 Named In Kings Contrivance Bust

From HoCo police:

A drug investigation by the Howard County Police Department has resulted in 15 suspects being indicted for conspiracy to distribute a controlled dangerous substance. The suspects are believed to have been involved in crack cocaine distribution throughout Columbia, with concentrated activity in the Village of Kings Contrivance and Jessup.

The indictments came after a six-month investigation that began in summer 2008. In December 2008, 13 search warrants were executed, including 11 in Howard County, one in Baltimore and one in Concord, N.C. As a result, police seized illegal drugs, large quantities of cash and three handguns.

You can find a list of names here.

Road Hazards

Our friends over at the Friends of the Bicycling Advocates of Howard County sent us this survey they conducted of their members. They say 157 of 223 members responded.

The Worst Roads People Actually Ride

* Rt. 108 (15 % of responses)
* Homewood Rd. (6%)
* Folly Quarter (6%)
* Snowden River Parkway (5%)
* Rt. 103 (5%)

Roads People are Afraid to Ride

* Rt 40 (15% of responses)
* Rt 108 (6%)
* Rt 29 (6%)
* Rt 175 (5%)
* Snowden River Parkway (5%)

Road Hazards

* Cars driving at excess speed or above posted limits (37%)
* No shoulder or not enough shoulder (36%)
* Road surface (potholes, cracks) (14%)
* Road design (for example: poorly designed merges, humps, chokers) (9%)
* Poor signage (merges, cross streets, obstacles not signed) (3%)

Preliminary Conclusions

* 108 is the most heavily traveled road that people don’t like.
* 108 is also the 2nd most infamous road that people refuse to ride!
* Shoulders matter most.
* Cars seem to generally outpace the speed limit.

Top Roads Where Lack of Shoulders Are A Problem

* 108 (15%)
* Snowden River
Pkwy (7%)
* Homewood Rd. (6%)
* 40 (5%)

Top Roads Where Speed Is A Problem

* 108 (12%)
* Snowden River
Pkwy (6%)
* 40 (6%)
* 29 (5%)

Top Roads Where Surface Conditions Are A Problem

* 108 (10%)
* Homewood Rd. (8%)
* 144 (6%)

Top Recommendations

* Encourage the county officials to ride the routes they pave on bicycles so they can appreciate what the surface really feels like.
* I think the cyclists and farmers should get together and propose that a 4 foot shoulder with a swale be added to all roads.
* Engage politicians and prosecutors to ensure proper justice is served to distracted and drunk drivers that injure or kill cyclists or pedestrians in our area.
* Provide bicycle friendly crossovers of the major north/south highways in Howard County (Rt 1, I95, Rt 29, Rt 108, Rt 32, Rt 97 & Rt 94)

Saturday, March 7, 2009

A "AAA" County

In times like these, this is an accomplishment. Fitch, one of the three main debt rating agencies, rated HoCo's bonds AAA, according to this release.

A high rating means the county can borrow money for less.

Howard County's relative affluence, high quality of life, excellent schools, and proximity to both Baltimore and Washington, D.C. have resulted in continued strong demand for housing and related commercial expansion. Repeatedly listed as one of the best places to live in popular magazines, the county controls its growth, limiting new housing units to 1,850 annually and placing 10% of its land under permanent farmland preservation easements. Development is anticipated as a result of recent Base Realignment and Closure Commission recommendations, which will bring Defense Information Systems Agency and other Defense departments' activities to Fort Meade, in adjacent Anne Arundel County. Assessed valuation growth has been solid, averaging roughly 10% annually since fiscal 2000. Fitch anticipates that the county's assessment process will shelter it, at least in part, from market declines over the next few fiscal years. County employment remains strong, with the December 2008 unemployment rate of 3.8% comfortably below the state's 5.5% and the nation's 7.1%. Wealth and income indicators are high, with per capita income 29% above state and 63% above national averages.

Before you let that glowing review go to your head, remember this: The ratings agencies once called AAA all those securities we now know as toxic assets. We're guessing "continued strong demand for housing and related commercial expansion" is a relative qualifier in this economy.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Nature Center Moves Forward

The HoCo Council last night approved construction funding for what would be the first county-run nature center on 18 acres or so off Cedar Lane near the Middle Patuxent wildlife area.

Here's a description from the county's Web site (after you wade through all the people we taxpayers should be grateful to, egads!):

The center will be comprised of a modern nature center with customary indoor exhibits and displays along with outdoor interpretive trails. The trails will be used for outdoor education, and interpretation of the historic Simpsonville Mill and its surrounds. The indoor exhibits and displays will be both interactive and static in nature. In addition to the main exhibit room, the Center will have a large Discovery Room specifically designed for children’s activities with many “hands-on” exhibits and activities.

The ExploreHoward made a brief mention of the council's action in this story.

"...the council unanimously approved transferring about $3.2 million from other capital projects to build the planned Robinson Nature Center in Columbia, and authorized the county to issue up to an additional $2.1 million in bonds for the work. County staff have said they want to take advantage of currently low construction cost prices to move forward with the center."

It's called the Robinson center because the land being used was ultimately a gift from Anne S. Robinson under the conditions that a county nature center be constructed on the property.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

SWAT Accountability

There's a move afoot in the state legislature to require police to report monthly on their SWAT raids, according to this WJZ report. Here's a link to the channel's video.

The Sun had its own piece.

Karen Thomas says she remembers the smallest of details about a Howard County SWAT team raid on her Ellicott City home in 2007, down to the time displayed on a clock as she heard her 10-year-old dog start barking.

In testimony yesterday before the state Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, Thomas told how six masked men with guns had crashed into her home. Thomas was forced to the ground, handcuffed and heard a gunshot from the family room where her younger son was sleeping.

"You can't imagine, an unfathomable mother's nightmare had become my ordinary Friday-morning reality," Thomas told the panel in Annapolis.

In a separate report, the Sun's ExploreHoward blog talked with the HoCo chief as he defended a SWAT raid in Elkridge, in which police killed a family dog as they searched for a rifle and other missing police gear. No arrests have been made.

“From what I know about this, this was an appropriate use of tactical,” McMahon said last Friday during an interview, his first comments on the police raid. “We had stolen weapons that could present a danger to the community, so it was important for us to get them.”

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

New CA Budget Includes Pay Cuts

We're just catching up on this news from a Feb. 27 CA release:

The Columbia Association (CA) Board of Directors has approved the FY 2010 budget. Cognizant of the current economic downturn, the CA Board of Directors approved a budget that reflects spending cutbacks throughout the organization. Key highlights include a postponement of nearly $1.8 million in capital expenditures and a reduction in merit increase potential for all team members. With the slow down of the economy, these cuts are aimed at protecting CA’s financial stability, while continuing to provide all of its services and amenities to the community. The FY 2010 budget has a bottom line that is $593,000 better than the bottom line of the original budget that was proposed in December 2008.

Seven senior staff members, including the president, three vice presidents, two division directors and CA’s general counsel volunteered to reduce their incentive pay by 50 percent. Additionally, there will be a reduction in average merit increases from 3.5 to 3 percent for all team members. The divisions have also delayed hiring new personnel, deferring the functions of these positions to existing employees.

Between CA’s five Divisions (Administrative Services, Sports and Fitness, Communications and Marketing, Open Space Management and Community Services) the staff has agreed to proactively cut over $400,000 in personnel-related expenses. The budget does not increase either the Annual Charge or “Cap” rate to Columbia residents. Programs, services and membership rates are increasing 2.5 to 3 percent so that users of those services can bear the inflationary costs of doing business. Residents who do not use the services will not have to bear those inflationary cost

CA offers many programs that meet the diverse needs of individuals and groups in the community. Needbased Columbia residents have a variety of programs available to them to obtain access to CA facilities and programs. These programs include the Income Qualified Program, the Ann Scherr Fund, the Earn-A-Membership Program, the CA Points Program, Operation Homefront Heroes and Emergency Assistance.

Despite significant cutbacks, the total FY 2010 increase in net assets is $3.2 million.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Melt That Ice Safely

Follow this link to tips for melting ice in an environmentally friendly way, courtesy of the Maryland Cooperative Extension's Home and Garden Information Center.