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In new platform, candidate Watson says aging process in Howard should 'evolve'

Democratic county executive candidate Courtney Watson released her third policy platform on Monday, a multi-point plan on aging and providing support for the county's senior citizens.

The platform is the second released by Watson's campaign in less than a week. The County Council member from Ellicott City unveiled a list of economic priorities on Thursday to coincide with her participation in a Chamber of Commerce-hosted debate against opponent Allan Kittleman, a Republican state senator from West Friendship.

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"We're doing a lot, but I think that we must evolve and expand our method of aging in Howard County," Watson told a roundtable of supporters and senior citizens at Vantage House in downtown Columbia Monday.

Howard County is already in the process of developing a master plan for its aging population, which is expected to balloon as the national number of Americans aged 65 and older more than doubles by 2025, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

The bedrock of Watson's plan is recognizing that, according to community surveys, "most people want to stay here."

The goal, she said, "is to make Howard County a model community for aging."

Watson's platform proposes reimagining senior centers "as true hubs of life-long learning and resources" to get more seniors involved and instill a "feeling of being a vital part of the community."

Among her ideas to make senior centers more vibrant are plans to establish volunteer hubs at senior centers to match older volunteers with organizations in need of assistance, creating a workforce development program for adults 50 years and older, broadcasting speakers and other programs to senior centers via the new Intercounty Broadband Network and expanding free AARP tax aid sessions.

Watson's platform also focuses on expanding transportation opportunities for seniors as well as ensuring bus stops are accessible and sidewalks aren't uneven or dangerous to walk on.

She said one idea, a proposal to provide free bus transportation to seniors aged 65 and older from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Regional Transit Agency of Central Maryland buses, might be implemented before December.

Other components of Watson's aging platform include encouraging moderately priced senior housing options in redevelopment areas, expanding support systems for caregivers and creating a resource commission to study the best ways of informing seniors about available county programs.

Watson also hinted that the county might soon form a partnership with an institution of higher learning, "which is very interested in helping us [develop] an aging model."

At the roundtable, Watson stressed the importance of planning ahead: "We're moving into the future. How do we best do that for Howard County?"

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