Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman and Howard County Councilman Calvin Ball, who recently butted heads publicly over nutritional guidelines for county government vending machines, are at odds again, this time over funding for Bridge Columbia.
In July, after the Howard County Times and Columbia Flier ran an article looking at the different funding options for the proposed transit and pedestrian bridge over Route 29, Ball wrote to Kittleman asking him to clarify his "position and support" for the bridge.
"It appears there is now confusion on your position and activism for funding this project," Ball wrote July 24, according to an email exchange released by the county executive's staff. The councilman's district includes the village of Oakland Mills, which is connected to downtown Columbia by the pedestrian bridge that many residents and independent group Friends of Bridge Columbia hope can be upgraded.
In his email, Ball criticized Kittleman for not providing additional funding to Bridge Columbia in his capital budget for fiscal year 2016. The project currently has $600,000 in funds: $100,000 from a prior county appropriation and a $500,000 contribution from downtown Columbia master developer Howard Hughes.
"As you know, the best way to show leadership and advocate for a project that has priority is to place incremental funding into our county budget," he wrote.
In his response two weeks later, Kittleman said he was "surprised" to receive Ball's letter.
"The Oakland Mills Community Association and Bridge Columbia advocates know that I support Bridge Columbia," he wrote to Ball Aug. 7. "My staff and I have been working in a collaborative manner with the community on a path forward for the bridge."
Kittleman expressed support for the Bridge Columbia project during his campaign. In an email last October to Columbia Association's Board of Directors, he offered his "[full] support" for an Oakland Mills Village Board resolution called for "immediate action by county, state and federal officials to begin replacement of the existing pedestrian bridge over Route 29. ..." The resolution specified that the replacement should include "at a minimum, some form of public transit."
As county executive, Kittleman told Oakland Mills residents at his first public forum in March that he supported replacing the bridge, but that finding funding from state and federal sources would be key to funding the project, which is projected to cost between $10 million and $37 million.
In June, Kittleman held a roundtable to discuss concepts and funding options for Bridge Columbia. He and advocates agreed the project would require multiple funding sources.
In his email Aug. 7, Kittleman accused Ball of trying to "create confusion about my position and the future of the bridge" and "distract[ing] from the work that needs to be done."
He said he was committed to using the previously appropriated funds "for short-term fixes and planning for the future of the bridge."
Kittleman pointed to a tight budget season, based partly on his decision to downsize county borrowing from $120 million to $96 million this fiscal year, as the reason he didn't provide additional funding for the project this year. He did pencil in $750,000 in funds for Bridge Columbia in the budget for fiscal year 2017, although that will not be set in stone until next year's budget is proposed and voted upon.
"I certainly support incrementally providing funding for future projects but that's not always possible in tough budget years," Kittleman wrote.
When asked about the exchange, Ball said he wrote his letter on behalf of constituents.
"I will continue to advocate for our community and I look forward to [Kittleman] actually addressing his funding plan on how to support this vital connection from East to West Columbia," he said.
Kittleman, meanwhile, said he would continue the dialogue about Bridge Columbia.
"Over the next several months and as we put together the FY2017 budget, my staff will continue to work with the Oakland Mills community on a path forward for all projects related to Oakland Mills, including Bridge Columbia," he wrote.