The Howard County Council is scheduled to vote this week on the final version of a proposed $2 billion fiscal 2023 county operating budget.
The proposed budget includes more than $1 billion for the Howard County Public Schools System and an $11 million increase for public safety, the largest increase in more than a decade, according to Howard County Executive Calvin Ball.
“This proposed budget provides historic support of our shared priorities while continuing a fiscally responsible management approach,” said Ball, who cited strong revenue performances during the pandemic, especially in the real estate market, to support critical services in the 2023 budget.
The general fund, which supports most government services, totals $1.38 billion, excluding the use of $91.6 million in fund balance from prior surplus to support priority one-time initiatives, Ball said. The general fund budget would increase by 7% over this year’s general budget.
In total, Howard County has promised $45 million in new revenue to the public school system for 2023, above the amount provided in fiscal 2022. The increase includes a $5 million toward more than 150 new positions in special education, nearly 80 positions for pre-kindergarten, 26 positions for college and career readiness, 19 positions for behavioral health and student well-being and 14 positions to support the opening of a new high school in Jessup. One-time funding of $17.9 million will support the startup operating costs for the new high school and system-wide technology initiatives.
Howard County Times: Top stories
Included in the public safety increase is $3.7 million for 24 new county police patrol officers, “a critical investment to maintain proper staffing levels and improve response times,” Ball said. To ensure police accountability, $2.8 million was allotted to expand the use of body-worn cameras to all Howard County police officers and the sheriff’s office. The creation of an independent civilian Police Accountability Board was allotted almost $200,000.
The 2023 Capital Improvement Program totals $377.7 million, and provides $105.9 million for school construction projects, including the new high school and a Hammond High School renovation/addition; $14.8 million for the Howard Community College Mathematics and Athletic Complex; $1.7 million to begin designing a new library branch in Columbia;$12.5 million in road surfacing; and $8.2 million to support pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure in the county.
The budget provides $5 million for business assistance relief and grant matching to support businesses, residents and organizations recovering from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Housing Opportunities Trust Fund, which supports housing needs around the county, was allotted $5 million.
Park improvement projects and renovations were allotted $19 million with funding included for the potential acquisition of the Camp Ilchester property, expanded recreation, pathways and parking at Blandair Park and improvements to the Schooley Mill Park equestrian ring.
The proposed budget uses $45 million Pay As You Go (PAYGO) funds, which is limited to one-time expenditures per the County Charter, as a cost-saving alternative to debt financing to support critical needs such as school systemic renovation, road resurfacing, and Ellicott City Safe and Sound projects.
Six budget work sessions and two public hearings were held this year to create the final budget plan. The County Council were scheduled to vote on the final budget Wednesday.