- The Washington Times - Monday, August 11, 2008



200 buses pulled after brake fires

The Maryland Transit Administration says fires on two buses caused by brake problems forced it to pull 200 vehicles off the streets in July.

Agency Administrator Paul J. Wiedefeld says the public was never in danger from the fires. One occurred while passengers were aboard but did not cause injuries. However, Mr. Wiedefeld acknowledged the decision forced the cancellation of some runs.

One of the buses was destroyed by the fire that occurred as it was being towed.

The agency said efforts to fix buses have been hampered because the manufacturer of the brake parts has gone out of business. About 50 of the affected buses, out of a fleet of 669, will remain off the streets until parts can be found.


City worker faces theft charges

Takoma Park police have charged a city employee in connection with two stolen cars.

Steven Rhinehart, 49, of Hyattsville, was charged with two counts of theft more than $500, motor-vehicle theft and unauthorized removal. He is a code-enforcement employee.

Police said two vehicles were illegally towed July 18 from Kansas Lane. Officials said witnesses told them a government employee indicated he had authority to tow the cars. However, city records didn’t show the vehicles had been removed.



State ranks 17th in tax burden

Virginia’s tax burden has reached its highest level in three decades.

However, a spokesman for the Tax Foundation said the state’s tax burden has remained relatively steady over the years, and at No. 18 among the 50 states, Virginia remains firmly in the middle of the pack.

Foundation spokesman Bill Ahern said Virginia’s 2007 ranking in the foundation’s annual study of state-local tax burden is its highest since 1977. It’s lowest ranking was in 1993, when it came in at 35. From the late 1990s until recently, the state has generally ranked in the mid- to low-20s.

According to the most recent study, New Jersey residents have the highest tax burden while Alaskans have the lowest.

The foundation measures tax burden as a percentage of per-capita income. Though Virginia’s rank has varied from year to year, the percentage of income paid in taxes has remained between 9 percent and 10 percent since 1977.


Panel discusses offshore drilling

A panel discussion of the environmental and economic implications of lifting the moratorium on exploratory offshore drilling for oil and natural gas is scheduled for Monday.

The event will be held in the City Council chambers and is being sponsored by Rep. Robert C. Scott, Virginia Democrat. Panelists include state Delegate Joseph F. Bouchard, Virginia Democrat; Glen Besa of the Sierra Club; and Jim Kibler of AGL Resources, the parent company of Virginia Natural Gas.

Congress has extended its moratorium on offshore drilling each year since 1982. The moratorium will expire Sept. 30 if not re-enacted.


State reports more dirty streams

The state’s Department of Environmental Quality says more Virginia streams are dirty.

A new report shows more than 10,600 miles of Virginia’s 51,000 miles of rivers and streams failed to meet the state’s clean-water standards from 2001 to 2006 — an 18 percent increase over the last report issued in 2006.

James E. Beckley, water quality data liaison with the agency, gave a summary of the report Saturday during a summit for the state’s volunteer water-quality monitors. The full report is expected in the fall.

Mr. Beckley said tests revealed elevated levels of E. coli in many waterways. The report primarily blames agricultural practices, but also mentions urban runoff, leaking sewers, failing septic tanks, domestic animals and wildlife.


Coalition challenges land-record fees

The Virginia Coalition for Open Government is challenging fees some clerks are charging to access real estate records online.

A state law that went into effect July 1 requires clerks to post land transactions online and sets a maximum charge of $50 a month. But some counties are requiring users to sign lengthy contracts and pay for up to a year’s worth of access.

The coalition’s executive director, Jennifer L. Perkins, said that’s excessive and violates the spirit of the Freedom of Information Act.

John G. “Chip” Dicks with the Virginia Court Clerks Association said the fee structure was a compromise among clerks, lawyers, bankers, real estate agents and others.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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