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Howard County transition team makes recommendations to seize 'opportunities'

The George Howard Building, located off of Court House Drive in Ellicott City, MD is the seat of the County Government in Howard County
The George Howard Building, located off of Court House Drive in Ellicott City, MD is the seat of the County Government in Howard County (Ed Bunyan / Patuxent Publishing)

A transition team formed in November by then-County Executive Elect Calvin Ball delivered its report of more than 60 pages this week outlining the county’s strengths and shortcomings — and offering a lengthy list of “opportunities” members said the county should seize.

Recommendations range from preservation efforts in Ellicott City to promoting affordable housing to ways to improve schools, but members said in an opening letter that equality and inclusion must be the county’s job No. 1.

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“First and foremost, our government should strive for fair and equitable opportunity for every resident of Howard County,” members said. The group emphasized ways to improve department functions, public safety and creating a more diverse workforce.

“Howard County is a great place, but greatness requires continual attention,” said Sen. Guy Guzzone, chairman of the team, in a statement.

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The panel consisted of more than 100 community members, including former county executive Ken Ulman and representatives from academia, business, education and nonprofits. Members worked in groups on study areas including economic development, citizens’ services, education, public safety and the environment.

In a press release, Ball said “each of these leaders put their best into drafting a report that provides some thoughtful considerations for making a great county even better.”

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The county executive said it was “comforting” to have an array of leaders making suggestions, and said the report would help him “move forward and help chart the course for the next chapter in our history.”

One “opportunity” identified by the team was in Ellicott City, where members recommended an emphasis on “retaining as much of the authenticity of Main Street as possible.”

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Ball in December announced the county would continue to pursue alternatives to mitigating flooding in the historic district that may not include complete demolition of 10 buildings on lower Main Street. The move was heralded by preservationists who fear the demolition will tarnish the historic aura of Ellicott City. The county is in negotiations to acquire these buildings.

In its comments, the committee suggested that “alternatives to full scale demolition should be considered” but also advocating said that “the existing timeline for flood mitigation should be maintained or accelerated.”

Members also noted the need to be wary of the impact of mitigation projects on the business community, saying the county must “pair pain with profit.”

The panel advocated considering “heretofore undefined upstream stormwater management projects,” as well as providing “financial incentives to Main Street business.” It urged exploring “proposals and programs that would minimize disruption.”

In other matters, the team noted that experts are predicting “economic headwinds” in the future, and suggested making the county’s Spending Affordability Advisory Committee a standing group that can, throughout the year, provide detailed information on “revenue levels and the impact of economic indicators” to give county officials guidance on fiscal matters. It also suggested attaching fiscal notes to legislation so the public can know the financial impact of proposals.

Also, the team said the administration should provide executive level support for work between agencies to create a sole portal for residents to pay bills, sign up for classes and pay tickets, and recommended working with state lawmakers to give the county the ability to assess and adjust school impact fees for developers. Adjusting impact fees now occurs under the supervision of state lawmakers.

On the environment, the group recommended that the county develop a comprehensive preparedness plan related to climate emergencies, and update the county’s Climate Action Plan and greenhouse gas emissions inventory of 2012 to identify possible energy savings and greenhouse gas reductions. The group also urged Ball to sign onto the “We Are Still In” declaration related to the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. “This will signal that we are no longer ignoring these risks,” the report states.

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The committee suggested creating of a plan to attract and retain a diverse workforce, including making more use of minority- and women-owned businesses in county procurement. The members noted that the county has a goal to contract certain levels with such businesses, but said “past efforts have been aspirational and have not reached the level of consistent and expected goals.”

Other recommendations included establishing an LGBTQ advocacy commission, creation of an ombudsmen position for the Department of Planning and Zoning to investigate complaints and serve as a liaison for the public, and a redesign of the county’s website to make it “easily accessible, user friendly, intuitive and provide information in a clear and concise matter.”

It also recommended that the website be made available in multiple languages. The county site was last overhauled in 2016 under the direction of former Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman. The initiative, which cost $260,000 included making the website mobile friendly.

The team recommended rebranding the county’s Office on Aging and Independence by renaming 50+ centers.

“This office has been pigeonholed as the office that only serves ‘older’ residents,” the report said. “This is not the case. This office aims to serve residents of all ages. Accordingly, the name and message coming from this office must reflect the true nature of the programs and services offered.”

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