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New courthouse brings Kittleman’s proposed capital budget to $374 million for next year

Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman unveiled his proposed $374 million capital budget Friday, a plan that increases spending as his administration courts plans to replace the county's 174-year-old courthouse.

The proposal, which includes funding for projects like roads, school buildings and other construction projects, more than doubles the county's general obligation bonds from $92 million to $201 million in order to replace the Ellicott City courthouse, which is expected to cost $139 million to construct.

Kittleman's proposal commits $105 million in general bonds to finance the project through a partnership with the private sector.

The county will shoulder most of the costs of a 30-year contract with a private consortium of consultants, who would handle design, construction and maintenance of the courthouse. Exactly how much the county and the private sector will contribute has not been finalized, according to Holly Sun, the county's budget director.

In a strikingly cautionary tone departing from previous years, a local advisory group formed by Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman urged the county to reign in future spending as growing demands outpace economic growth

Without considering the courthouse, the county's bond authorization hovers around $96 million, a level similar to previous years under the Kittleman administration and substantially lower than the previous administration's levels.

Staying on par with last year, the county's spending advisory committee recommended bringing bond authorizations down to $85 million. The committee released a report that forecasted a financially strained outlook for the county over the next several years.

In a statement, Kittleman applauded his administration's ability to pursue fiscal prudence without cutting services, even in the face of the Ellicott City flood.

"This budget 'fast-forwards' long-delayed projects, some for decades, as well as introduces new ones that will support our shared goals," Kittleman wrote in a statement.

While the courthouse is the priciest project in recent years, Kittleman's proposal includes $44 million in county funding for education. The largest commitments include $19 million for a 42nd elementary school, $12.3 million to purchase a new school site and $11 million to design and renovate a nursing and science and technology building at Howard Community College.

Kittleman has also earmarked an additional $1.8 million for flood management in Ellicott City and Valley Mede, a neighborhood that has struggled with flooding for years.

His proposal also includes funds to begin planning other projects, including $250,000 for a new detox and outpatient treatment center to address the opioid crisis; $200,000 to support senior activities at the East Columbia Senior Center; and $500,000 to design an indoor pool at the North Laurel Community Center.

Next year, the administration also plans to begin designing a new fire station in west Columbia and begin planning a new central police station. As the county's contract with a vendor expires next year, the administration is also proposing $6.2 million to replace a public safety radio system.

For roads and transportation, Kittleman is proposing $4.5 million in funding to chip away at a $56 million backlog in road resurfacing and other improvements that have accumulated over the last decade.

Blandair Regional Park, which is currently under construction, would also get a $1.7 million boost under Kittleman's budget, which proposes a new playground, dog park and picnic shelter.

Kittleman wrote that his budget reflects his administration's "prudent and fiscally responsible approach by focusing on making government more responsive, efficient and accessible."

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Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman, in a op-ed for Howard County Times, writes: For fiscal 2018, we expect moderate income growth – about 3.9 percent – or $40.6 million total. This increase must be divided among hundreds of requests, including education, public safety, public infrastructure, community services and many other important areas.

Innovation district

Gateway Business Park, a sprawling 920-acre corporate area in Columbia, is also one of Kittleman's top economic priorities.

The budget includes funding to create a new innovation center that Kittleman hopes will drive an area he declared "an innovation district" in February as part of a broad vision to transform the aging center into a thriving hub for innovation over the next decade.

The Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship, an arm of the Howard County Economic Development Authority, and its 24 start-up companies will join the authority's offices by relocating from Bendix Road in Columbia, where the county plans to bring a new courthouse, to the county-owned Gateway building.

"We shouldn't have to read stories about how great Silicon Valley is — we can have our own Silicon Valley right here," said Drew Cohen, president of MasterPeace Solutions, a government company currently based in the park.

Some of the county's community service agencies will move to open up more than 45,000 square feet of space for the innovation center.

Kittleman has allocated $4.6 million in the upcoming budget to move the offices of the county's Department of Community Resources and Services, Department of Housing and Community Development, Office of Human Rights and the Community Action Council.

Over the next several months, Kittleman plans to move four community service agencies from Gateway to a new community resources campus on Patuxent Woods Drive where some county nonprofits like HopeWorks, a nonprofit that provides services for victims of domestic violence and other social services, are currently relocating.

"This move will improve accessibility, accountability and coordination among all human service agencies," Kittleman wrote in a prepared statement.

The Howard County Economic Development Authority is spearheading efforts to relocate its entities and private investors to Gateway. Negotiations are underway, according to a county spokesperson.

A public hearing on Kittleman's budget is scheduled for April 6 at 7 p.m. in the George Howard building. The council will vote on the overall budget in late May.



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