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Ulman releases $259.9 million FY15 capital budget proposal

Budget includes $77.3M for Board of Education

By Amanda Yeager, ayeager@tribune.com

8:25 PM EDT, April 1, 2014

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Howard County Executive Ken Ulman released his capital budget for fiscal year 2015 April 1, a $259.9 million spending program that prioritizes funding for schools, parks, water-quality improvements and expansion of a new intercounty broadband network.

"The investments we are proposing today are responsible and progressive," Ulman said in a statement. "Our fiscal strength and strong economy mean that we can make gains in education, recreation and other areas in a cost-effective manner, preparing our community for the future."

The budget includes $77.3 million for the county's Board of Education, including $55 million in funds from the county, the highest local amount in six years.

New education projects this year include resources to start construction of a replacement for Wilde Lake Middle School – planned to be the first net-zero energy school in the state, producing all the energy it uses – as well as funds to finish construction of Thomas Viaduct Middle School and to purchase school sites in the eastern county, including land for a 13th county high school.

The Board of Education gave preliminary approval to a $94.6 million capital budget request in October, and final approval of a $97.3 million request in February. Last year, the board adopted a capital budget of $83.5 million.

Howard Community College would receive $4.4 million.

Howard County's library system, which was named Library of the Year in 2013 by the Library Journal, is set to receive $6.8 million for construction of a new Elkridge Branch library, renovation of the East Columbia and Central library branches and completion of renovations at the Savage Branch.

The county's parks would receive $22.3 million under Ulman's proposal, including $8.9 million for the next phase of construction at Troy Park in Elkridge, which is slated to open later this year.

Blandair Regional Park would receive $3 million, and the county would also allocate $3.5 million to create fields and a playground next to the East Columbia Branch library.

A big chunk of the budget – $30 million – will go toward expanding the county's new broadband network, which connects government and some non-government facilities throughout the county via fiber optic cables that provide secure high-speed Internet.

The proposal contains $16.6 million for stormwater and water quality improvements in the county. The county began collecting revenue for a dedicated stormwater project fund late last year through the stormwater fee, popularly known as the rain tax.

Public safety improvements total $4.7 million, including funds for new fire stations in Jessup and Elkridge and money to plan for a third full-service police station in the county.

Infrastructure improvements to roads, sidewalks and traffic would garner $26.9 million.

Following this winter's record snowfall, Ulman has proposed $14.5 million for road resurfacing, 22 percent higher than last year's allocation.

Other highlights of the capital budget include $900,000 in funds for bicycle projects across the county, $1.1 million for improvements to Ellicott City's Patapsco Female Institute, which is used as a theater venue; and $3 million for expansion of the Howard County Circuit Courthouse.

And Ulman is proposing an additional $2.3 million for improvements to downtown Ellicott City, bringing the total investment in the historic town to $6.3 million over two years. The county recently announced plans to build a pedestrian staircase connecting the Circuit Courthouse and Lot E, as well as improvements to Lot F.

A little less than half the capital budget, $119.7 million, would be funded by general obligation bonds, $300,000 less than the $120 million bond limit recommended by the county's Spending Affordability Committee.

The budget goes next to the County Council, which can vote to decrease the budget but cannot increase it, beyond restoring funding proposed by the Board of Education.

The Council will hold its first capital budget hearing – on all aspects of the budget except education, public safety and corrections – on April 9 at 7 p.m. in Ellicott City's George Howard building.

Ulman will present the capital budget before the Council's legislative public hearing on April 21.

Sara Toth contributed to this report.