In annual county address, Kittleman says Howard County 'redefined' resilience

In annual county address, Kittleman says Howard County 'redefined' resilience

In his third State of the County address before the business community, Republican Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman touted the county's resiliency and his leadership, which was tested by last year's deadly flood in Ellicott City.

Striking a tone similar to his previous addresses, which stressed community sustainability, Kittleman laid out broad accomplishments and future initiatives in today's speech, many of which have spanned his four-year term.

"I know there is a lot of uncertainty right now about what's happening at the federal level. But there should be no uncertainty here," Kittleman said at his annual address organized by the Howard County Chamber of Commerce at the Turf Valley Resort in Ellicott City.

Lauding the county's unemployment rate of 2.7 percent — the lowest since 2008 — Kittleman said he plans to pursue funds for various projects, including $10 million for road resurfacing, which has historically been replete of funding; $23 million for a new school site in Jessup; and $139 million for a new courthouse, partly financed through the private sector.

This year, Kittleman said, he plans to fund an outpatient detoxification clinic as the opioid takes hold in the state, and to direct the local children's board to implement a five-year plan to tackle Kittleman's education 24/7 initiative, which aims to support Howard County students both during and after school hours.

Reiterating campaign promises from 2014, Kittleman said he plans to update the county's growth policy to manage new development, preserve the Harriet Tubman School as a county-owned cultural and educational center and continue plans to redevelop aging village centers in Columbia.

In the past year, the county committed itself to major business ventures, including a $90 million tax increment financing deal as downtown Columbia undergoes a major overhaul by master developer Howard Hughes.

"We've exemplified a level of bipartisanship and cooperation that is unparalleled," Kittleman said.

He plans to launch a broad economic development project to designate Columbia Gateway, a 920-acre corporate park, as an "innovation district," where companies will collaborate with educational institutions and start-ups.

Turning to education, Kittleman lauded his administration's decision to direct funding for the Howard County Public Schools System to three categories to support salary increases for teachers after the school system's record-high request sent local lawmakers into a contentious budget season.

The historic Ellicott City flood, a natural disaster that affected dozens of businesses and residents in July and tested Kittleman's leadership, dominated Kittleman's address. The county's response, he said, "redefined the meaning of resilience."

Kittleman said Main Street has "come back to life," and since the July flood, 75 businesses have opened.

But challenges weathered by the Kittleman administration are far from over, Kittleman acknowledged.

Last year, a county committee tasked with analyzing the county's financial outlook laid out a cautiously optimistic outlook.

Earlier this year, a recent debate over whether or not the county should become a "sanctuary" for undocumented immigrants prompted Kittleman to call for civility on both sides.

Although Kittleman did not refer to the debate directly, the county executive concluded his address by calling for unity despite a few salient negative voices.

"Let us never retreat from living our lives by the shared values that define us as an inclusive and welcoming community for all," Kittleman said.

Leonardo McClarty, president of the Howard County Chamber of Commerce, lauded Kittleman's commitment to businesses and residents, which builds on the work of previous executives. Kittleman is the first Republican county executive to take the top seat since the late 1980s.

"His passion is clear," McClarty said.

Other updates:

•Freshly, a gourmet meal delivery service, plans to invest $8 million on Route 1.

The launch of READY HOCo, a campaign by the Office of Emergency Management to prepare for natural disasters.

$1.5 million in purchases over the last 15 months from local business through the county's Local Business Initiative

A 10-year agreement to create a nonprofit center, which will serve as a one-stop-shop for local nonprofit organizations and other entities

A new Human Trafficking Prevention Coordinating Council to build upon previous task forces' work.

A new position in the Howard County Police Department to work with the Korean community.

Widening Route 32 from Route 108 to Linden Church Road this year.

This story will be updated.

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