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New Wilde Lake Middle in Ulman budget

Howard County Executive Ken Ulman released his capital budget for fiscal year 2015 on April 1, a $259.9 million spending program that he says prioritizes funding for schools, parks, water-quality improvements and expansion of a new intracounty 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 Ulman administration outlined in a release a $77.3 million plan for county school system construction projects. Among the school system projects are the start 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 the completion of construction on Thomas Viaduct Middle School. In addition, funding is allocated to purchase school sites in the eastern part of the county, including land for a 13th public 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 County Community College would receive $4.4 million, under the Ulman administration's capital spending plan.

Howard County's library system 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.

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

The Ulman spending plan includes $16.6 million for stormwater and water quality improvements. The county began collecting revenue for a dedicated stormwater project fund late last year through a state-required stormwater fee, often referred to as the "rain tax."

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

Also included in the capital spending plan is $900,000 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 Courthouse.

Ulman also is proposing an $2.3 million for improvements to downtown Ellicott City, bringing the total investment in the historic area to $6.3 million over two years.

The Council will hold its first 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 prior to the Council's legislative public hearing on April 21.

Sara Toth contributed to this report.

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