County Executive Allan Kittleman began the fiscal 2019 budget cycle on a somewhat somber note Monday night, telling those gathered for the first budget public hearing that it was “not going to be an easy year for us,” before hearing about the myriad of projects and initiatives they wished to see funded.
The county’s revenue growth was 40 percent less than the previous year, Kittleman said during the meeting, meaning the county will have less money to spend on the many agencies, organizations and community projects that seek funding.
Residents and local leaders from community staples including the county’s library system and Howard Community College testified seeking money for both operational costs and capital projects.
HCC President Kathleen Hetherington spoke on behalf of the county’s flagship community college, seeking more than $16 million for two capital improvement projects on the campus.
Other entities vying for large sums included Howard County General Hospital, which is seeking $5 million in capital funding as well as $3 million in operational funding; and the county’s library system, which is seeking funding for projects including the update and reconfiguration of its Glenwood branch.
Several community members and local advocates spoke out about the need for greater funding for the county’s proposed Bikeway and other bike lanes. Chris Tsien, chief legal and financial officer for Bicycling Advocates of Howard County, testified at the hearing, saying the county’s bike lanes were woefully underfunded in comparison to surrounding counties.
In fiscal 2018, Montgomery County spent more than $23 million on bike path funding, and Anne Arundel spent in excess of $6 million, while Howard spent just $600,000 on funding for new bike projects. The County Council unanimously passed the Bike Howard master plan in April 2016 to provide bicyclists and pedestrians with a safer network of pathways that navigate commercial and residential areas.
Howard County school officials did not testify at the hearing, but during his opening remarks, Kittleman emphasized that education remained the county’s top funding priority. County funding for education, including the school system, libraries and Howard Community College, made up approximately two-thirds of the county’s fiscal 2018 budget.
Following Monday’s meeting, the next step in the budget process will be for the county’s Planning Board to review the proposed capital project program in February. Kittleman will submit his proposed capital and operating budgets to the County Council for consideration in April.