Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman applauded the “awesome” achievements of the county in the past year during his fourth State of the County address on Thursday and announced new initiatives to combat the opioid crisis.
Striking a similar tone to Gov. Larry Hogan’s January State of the State address, Kittleman, a Republican, distanced himself from the “confrontational politics” of Washington in his 41-minute speech, but like Hogan never mentioned President Donald Trump by name.
“This, my friends, is the difference between us and Washington,” Kittleman said during his remarks to a business group at the Turf Valley resort in Ellicott City. “We work together. We respect each other. That’s the difference in how we do things in Howard County.”
Kittleman is running for re-election and will likely face off in November against Democratic County Councilman Calvin Ball, who has one opponent in the June Democratic primary. Ball declined to comment on Kittleman’s address.
The county executive touted accomplishments from the last year, including the launch of the county’s first bike share program in May, his Achieve 24/7 educational program to bring more services to students in attempts to close achievement gaps and the continued return of businesses to Ellicott City’s Main Street following a July 2016 deadly flood.
Kittleman said the county’s effort to bring high-speed internet to rural western Howard County was reaching new heights, with 90 percent of the area set to receive coverage by the end of the month.
Kittleman announced the launch of a new opioid prevention, treatment and recovery website, HoCoOpioidHelp. The site includes information for health providers, youths and families about what symptoms to look for in a substance abuser and how to seek help.
“The opioid crisis is a daunting challenge as the numbers show,” Kittleman said. “It’s a health crisis, a public safety crisis. It affects us all every single day.
There have been six fatal and 27 non-fatal overdoses in the county this year, according to county police data.
In addition to the website, Kittleman announced the establishment of the county’s Opioid Crisis Community Council, to be chaired by advocate Barbara Allen. Kittleman was vague on what specific tasks the council would do, but that it will “give the community a voice and improve our efforts to prevent opioid misuse.”
Ahead of the county’s upcoming budget approval process, Kittleman noted ithat the county was facing a tough budget year. To combat this, Kittleman said his administration is making “thoughtful decisions” to keep up with services and protect the county’s high AAA bond rating for borrowing.
Kittleman has instituted a temporary hiring freeze throughout the county government for all “non-critical” positions as work continues on a budget proposal. The county’s operating budget for this year tops $1.58 billion.
Board of Education member Kirsten Coombs, who attended the address, said she is concerned about how the school system’s own financial woes, a budget deficit that’s expected to grow to $50 million by the summer, could affect the bond rating.
The school board made a motion during its Wednesday budget session to increase its budget proposal to approximately $905 million, $50 million more than Superintendent Michael Martirano’s proposal. Board members will approve their budget request on Monday.
Coombs said she expects budget negotiations with the County Council, which must ultimately approve the budget, to be “tough.”
Kittleman made no mention of the school system’s budget, but applauded Martirano’s appointment as permanent superintendent following the “dysfunction” between the board and former Superintendent Renee Foose, who he did not mention by name.
Democratic County Council Chairwoman Mary Kay Sigaty called the address characteristically “upbeat,” an annual chance for the county executive to highlight the county’s best qualities. Sigaty, whose third and final term will expire in December, received a key to the county alongside other outgoing council members Ball, Republican Greg Fox and Democrat Jen Terrasa.
“He is indeed correct, the county is in good shape,” Sigaty said. “We have such a committed workforce and group of citizens and that’s what makes for our quality of life.”
“Our greatest strength lies in you, the people who live here,” Kittleman said. “We are driven by compassion, have a moral compass that guides us and a resolve to leave our communities better than we found them.”