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Howard County Executive Calvin Ball proposes $68 million for school construction projects in fiscal 2021 budget

In his second capital budget, Howard County Executive Calvin Ball is recommending the school system receive $68.7 million in county funding to be able to keep three priority projects on track.

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For nearly a decade, the two Columbia projects have been pushed out, creating a greater need for both to be completed.

Carleen Pena, a Hammond High parent and longtime advocate for the construction project, said she was thrilled about the funding.

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“I’m just ecstatic. I had pretty much written it off,” Pena said.

Construction at Hammond High is set to begin in June and, if coronavirus social distancing measures are still in place, Pena said she will be sitting in a lawn chair across the street on the first day of construction, livestreaming the work.

“It was always about doing what was right for the school,” Pena said. “It’s more than just a school. That’s why we did this. I want other people to understand what is so amazing about this place.”

Nancy Thompson, principal at Talbott Springs Elementary, sent an email to her school community Wednesday to share the good news.

“It has been a long journey of advocacy, care and support by our elected officials and the entire Talbott Springs community,” Thompson wrote. “This is a joyful moment of celebration as we look toward the Talbott Springs replacement building completion and the vision of children interacting and learning in that beautiful space.”

Ball is also recommending additional funding for the county’s future 13th high school in Jessup, which is scheduled to open in September 2023.

“I think we have been consistent in advocating for these three projects to stay in the budget and for us to do all that we can to fight for those communities because we knew that it was going to be a priority, a shared community priority. And if it were possible, if there was a way, we would find it,” Ball said.

Ball announced his countywide fiscal 2021 capital improvement program Wednesday morning, known as the capital budget.

The proposed $68.7 million is $14 million higher than the county Board of Education’s $54.7 million request, according to Ball. .

In September, Howard schools Superintendent Michael Martirano drastically cut his recommended capital budget request from $135.6 million to $56.01 million, eliminating funding for Talbott Springs and Hammond, after learning anticipated funding from the county would top out at approximately $48 million.

School board Chairwoman Mavis Ellis thanked both parent and community advocates for all of their efforts and support to keep the projects on track.

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“We have been working for this for a long time and basically on fate,” Ellis said. “We [the school board] were so excited to receive the news.”

Holly Sun, the county’s budget administrator, previously said anticipated county funding would be between $41 million and $48 million for the school system.

In an interview, Sun said the anticipated levels were “a projection based on the existing revenue structure. So after other things happened that helped provide an additional [revenue] opportunity … we were able to provide a higher-than-anticipated funding level.”

The recommended spending plan includes a one-time $19.7 million transfer tax, which will help offset deferred state aid and keep projects on schedule.

“The transfer tax is imposed on any transactional properties; for example, if there’s a residential home sale, there is a tax for that,” Sun said.

By law, revenue from the transfer tax can be used for various capital projects, including the school system, recreation and parks, fire department and others.

“I am thankful to our state partners and [the] County Council for their support to help raise needed funding sources, including the school surcharge, transfer tax and state aid,” Ball said in a statement.

In November, the County Council approved an increased school surcharge fee, charged to developers building new residential housing. From the current fee of $1.32 per square foot, the County Council unanimously approved to increase the fee to $4.75 for 2020, $6.50 in 2021 and then $7.50. However, the $7.50 fee is subject to change, eventually becoming higher due to annual consumer price index adjustments.

“These projects are overdue and are needed to support the rapidly growing student enrollment in Howard County,” Martirano said in a statement. “Without this state-county-school system collaboration, moving three major construction projects while maintaining our systemic renovation priorities would not have been possible.”

Proposed school system capital funding

  • $21.5 million for the Hammond High School renovation/addition
  • $15.1 million for the replacement of Talbott Springs Elementary School
  • $13.5 million for systemic renovations
  • $11.3 million for the county’s 13th high school
  • $7.3 million for technology, roofing and relocatable classrooms

Other proposed education capital funding

  • $5.4 million for Howard Community College’s new mathematics and athletics complex
  • $2 million for Howard Community College systemic renovations
  • $550,000 for the renovation of the Howard County Library System’s Glenwood Branch

Ball is proposing a $250.4 million countywide capital budget that also would fund flood mitigation projects in Ellicott City, construction of an expanded East Columbia 50+ Center and a new cultural center in downtown Columbia.

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