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Howard County Executive Calvin Ball focuses on schools, mental health, COVID during State of the County address

Howard County Executive Calvin Ball gave his 2021 State of the County address Tuesday night, saying he was “proud of what our community has accomplished.”

“Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, our resilience has never wavered. Though we are not immune to challenging times, the state of Howard County remains strong,” Ball said at the Applied Physics Lab in Laurel.

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In his 45-minute speech, Ball touched on a variety of topics, including the county public school system, health initiatives, the police department, the environment and the Ellicott City Safe and Sound flood mitigation plan.

He announced a new partnership with the Horizon Foundation, the Kahlert Foundation and the Howard County Public School System that will invest nearly $2 million in funding for enhanced mental health services in all 78 county schools to provide direct access to a social worker.

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“We are committed to long-term investments in supporting the needs of our educators and schools throughout Howard County,” Ball said. “We are committed to strengthening linkages to community-based mental health resources.”

The commitment to mental health and substance abuse continued, with Ball mentioning the county’s growing Mobile Crisis Teams to ensure 24/7 coverage “for anyone who finds themselves in an emergency mental health situation,” and the county’s $1.5 million investment in residential treatment facilities Sheppard Pratt, Hilda’s Place and Howard House for transportation services and for hiring case managers and peer support specialists.

“We also recently completed our residential continuum of care with the opening of Sheppard Pratt’s new campus in Elkridge, which contains 17 medically managed detox beds for people with co-occurring mental health challenges,” Ball said.

Ball also touted the county’s Communications Initiated Referral to Crisis dispatch diversion program, which connects those who dial 911 for mental health crisis to a trained professional at Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center. He recognized Meghann Holloway, tech corporal and wellness coordinator and a 20-year Howard County Police Department veteran, for leading the program’s training and implantation.

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On education, Ball said the current capital budget includes $60 million to fund construction projects at Hammond High School, Talbot Springs Elementary and the new 13th high school in Jessup, which will be the first new high school in the county since 2005 when completed. An additional $5.75 million was used to purchase 10 acres of land for a new elementary school in Turf Valley.

On housing, Ball said the county was “No. 1 in the state for getting rental relief and mortgage assistance” to those residents in need, adding that the county’s Department of Housing and Community Development and its partners had served “nearly 1,800 households” and distributed “more than $14 million in rental and mortgage relief funding.”

He also noted the county’s new forest conservation law to mitigate the loss of natural lands and breaking ground on the state’s largest solar power purchase agreement that will generate 44 million kilowatt-hours a year.

Ball congratulated Police Chief Lisa Myers and Bita Dayhoff, the Community Action Council of Howard County’s president, on their upcoming retirements, and Kate Hetherington, president of Howard Community College, on her recent retirement.

He thanked the Howard County Health Department, first responders, health care workers and the volunteers “who have been on the front lines of the pandemic from Day One.”

“As of today, 96% of our residents 12 and over have received at least one [vaccine] shot,” Ball said. “Our data-informed and people-driven strategy has been regarded as among the best in the state and the nation.”

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