By Blair Ames, firstname.lastname@example.org
10:32 AM EST, December 19, 2012
Michele Bickley's Main Street home in historic Ellicott City filled with 6 feet of water during a September 2011 flash flood, causing more than $75,000 in damage.
On Dec. 12, Bickley and her neighbors affected by the storm asked Howard County Executive Ken Ulman to ensure that the county is doing all it can to prevent future flooding.
Bickley was one of seven residents to testify at a public hearing on the county's fiscal 2014 budget in favor of additional funding for stormwater management improvements.
"On the horizon it's very possible that another tragic flood awaits us. Imagine the positive implications if right here, right now, we make the right choice and we avoid further devastation to this town we call home," Bickley said.
Residents also testified in favor of appropriate funding for the Community Action Council, education and libraries during the nearly two-hour hearing designed to give the public an opportunity to suggest budget priorities.
More than 70 residents attended the hearing, which featured 26 speakers.
Ulman acknowledged at the start of the hearing that the county is still emerging from the toughest recession since the Great Depression, but said there are some positive signs on the horizon.
"We're still in a much better circumstance than many of our neighbors who are projecting significant budget deficits," Ulman said.
Howard County ended fiscal 2012 with a $23 million surplus, according to county budget administrator Ray Wacks.
Ulman told Ellicott City residents during the hearing that they can expect action on flooding solutions "very soon."
"This is a top priority," he said.
Howard Community College officials thanked Ulman for the county's financial support in recent years but stressed that the cost of running the college has outpaced tuition increases.
"HCC has no wiggle room in its operating budget," said Kevin Doyle, chair of the college's board of trustees.
Doyle said while county funding has increased by 3 to 4 percent in recent years, enrollment at the college has grown by 23 percent from 2009 to 2012.
Frank Aquino, chairman of the Howard County Board of Education, said the school system's budget will be "realistic and fiscally responsible."
The school system is projecting an increase of 550 students in fiscal 2014, while being asked to implement the common core curriculum and a new teacher evaluation system with no additional state funding, he said.
Aquino said the budget request will allow the system to maintain current classroom sizes and add teaching positions to address enrollment growth.
The Board of Education has given preliminary approval for a $107.3 million capital budget, which includes continued funding for the Atholton High School renovation.