What to know before the new Howard County Council session begins

Kate Magill
Contact ReporterHoward County Times

Just as kids head back to school on Sept. 5, the Howard County Council heads back to work next week, ready to tackle a jam-packed schedule and a slew of proposed legislation.

The fall schedule includes a continued hearing on the controversial adequate public facilities ordinance amendments and a bill that would allow some mulching on agricultural land.

Testimony from the last public hearing on the two bills will continue on Sept. 11; so many people had signed up to testify at the July 17 meeting that council Chairman Jon Weinstein capped the number of people who could testify and tabled the bills until the rest of the testimony could be heard in September.

Beyond the wrap-up of these two contentious bills, County Executive Allan Kittleman and the council have introduced bills covering a range of issues, including economic opportunity in the county and local taxing.

One of the most talked-about bills is council members Jen Terrasa and Calvin Ball’s legislation to repeal the downtown Columbia TIF, a $90 million public financing deal to fund public infrastructures in the area.

Terrasa said they decided to seek the TIF’s repeal after learning that the money would no longer go towards building a public parking garage, which will now instead be paid for and operated by Columbia’s master developer, Howard Hughes Corp. Instead, the money will be put toward accelerated road improvements, according to Kittleman.

Other key upcoming pieces of legislation include a bill from Kittleman to add veteran-owned businesses to the county’s Equal Business Opportunity Program, which fosters business relationships and contracts between the county and businesses owned by people who are disabled and women and minorities. Eleven percent of Howard County businesses are veteran-owned, according to a 2012 U.S. Survey of Businesses by the U.S. Census Department.

County spokeswoman Deidre McCabe said Kittleman wanted to add veteran-owned businesses to the program as another way to support veterans, who are a growing community in the county.

Another bill related to economic opportunity comes from Weinstein, who has proposed the creation of an Economic Opportunity and Prosperity Task Force made up of local professionals to examine the county’s policies and programs and recommend potential legislative and other changes to help more people gain economic advantage.

Participants for the 13-member task force have already been selected, and include individuals from county government and nonprofits and local business owners. Weinstein said the group will take a comprehensive look at the county’s economic environment, and how to provide more “on ramps” for people to successfully join the economy.

Former Howard County Director of Community Resources and Services Phyllis Madachy and Howard County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Leonardo McClarty will co-chair the task force. The other members include Ali M. Abidi, Marianne H. Brackney, Anne I. Brinker, Paul K. Casey, Ana M. Cisneros, Kimberly A. Flowers, Jason S. Jannati, Elizabeth M. Noble, Jaykant D. Parekh, Gopi Suri and Lawrence F. Twele.

Key focus areas for the task force include housing, transportation, workforce development and education, according to the bill, as they are factors that more significantly contribute to higher-paying and longer-term positions.

The group will look at the current landscape of how the county attracts business to the county, and will submit a report with recommendations by December 2018 for how the county can improve on this work. The bill stipulates that the task force will hold at least two public hearings.

“I thought a more holistic view of the economic environment was the most efficient way to try to generate the next set of ideas,” Weinstein said. “I want this to be a very thoughtful delivery process that engages the public.”

New legislation will be officially introduced at the council’s session on Sept. 5, and public testimony will be accepted at the public hearing on Sept. 18.

Reach Kate Magill at kmagill@baltsun.com.

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