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Howard County releases fiscal 2020 capital budget proposal including $15.3 million for flood mitigation

In his first budget proposal as Howard County executive, Calvin Ball has recommended funding $15.3 million for flood mitigation projects in historic Ellicott City for fiscal 2020.

The money would be used for designing stormwater retention facilities and storm drain improvements, according to the capital budget proposal released Monday. The county has already spent nearly $12 million on equipment usage, contracts and other purchases to clean up and remove debris since last year’s flood, which ripped through the old mill town, leaving one dead and millions of dollars in damage.

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The fiscal 2020 budget proposal is $206.3 million — $41.6 million less than the proposed fiscal 2019 capital budget.

In a statement, Ball described the process as challenging and said it called for “some hard choices.”

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The Spending Affordability Advisory Committee created by Ball last December reported earlier this year that revenues could soon outpace county spending. The committee recommended the county authorize no more than $70 million in general obligation bonds.

The proposed budget seeks using $89.8 million in bonds, $7.6 million less than what was proposed last year by former County Executive Allan Kittleman.

“Despite the fiscal challenges we face, the proposed budget provides necessary support to the strategic priorities of the community,” Ball said in a statement.

Howard County will host a press conference later this month to update the public on the progression of flood mitigation in Ellicott City.

Kittleman planned to, over five years, spend $50 million on flood mitigation projects on the old mill town and to acquire and raze 13 buildings along Main Street in Ellicott City. The demolition portion of the plan was criticized by preservationists who feared the move would tarnish the historic town. The plan to raze buildings was halted in December when Ball took office after defeating Kittleman in November’s election.

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Ball spokesman Scott Peterson said the county will hold a press conference on April 16 to announce the total amount it anticipates spending on flood mitigation efforts in the historic district.

When asked if the county would announce the plan for 10 buildings on lower Main Street once slated for demolition, Peterson in an email said the county “will have an update on acquisitions but negotiations of some properties will remain ongoing.”

Jim Irvin, director of the county’s Department of Public Works, previously said those negotiations would be based on 2017 state appraisal values. The combined values for the 13 buildings once slated for demolition are nearly $2.8 million, according to documents obtained by The Howard County Times.

Also in the budget proposal, the county plans to fulfill the Board of Education’s top requests for construction projects.

The county proposes giving $9 million toward a $130.7 million project to build a 13th high school.

The budget allows for the designation of $9.5 million to build a replacement for Talbott Springs Elementary School in Columbia. Last October, the state of Maryland committed to help pay for the $42 million project but did not specify how much it would give.

The budget also proposes $12.6 million to expand Hammond High School, which suffers from overcrowding. The project total is estimated at $80 million.

In the budget, the county also has proposed $2.2 million in funding to beef up bicycle infrastructure.

Of the 1,038 miles of roads maintained by local government, only 35 contain bike lanes. The county has 108 miles of shared-use pathways for bikers and walkers located off the streets — 90 of which are in Columbia.

The proposal is meant to fund a plan adopted in 2016 to improve bike safety in the county.

In a joint statement from Horizon, Bike HoCo and American Heart Association, the groups praised Ball for allocating money to the initiative.

“This new investment in bicycling helps us reach our vision of a network of connected, safe routes making it significantly easier and safer for residents to bike to everyday locations and achieve recommended physical activity guidelines,” the statement said.

The county also proposes allocating $1.5 million to build a pool in North Laurel. Though this funding would not fulfill the $15.3 million needed to build it in a single year, Ball said he is “committed to moving the project forward.”

The fiscal 2020 capital budget proposal has been sent to the County Council who will vote on a final version of the budget by June 1.

The proposed operating budget, which funds everything from schools to fire and police protection, is expected to be released April 18.

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