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State, local leaders detail financial impact of Ellicott City flood

ayeager@capgaznews.com

Nearly six months after a flash flood devastated historic Ellicott City, state and local leaders are still tallying up the costs.

The flood, which damaged dozens of businesses, displaced close to 200 residents and claimed the lives of two people, will cost about $42 million in lost economic activity, Howard County Economic Development Authority CEO Lawrence Twele predicted Thursday. And the county will miss out on about $1.3 million in tax revenue as a result.

Twele joined officials from the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development to brief members of the General Assembly's Budget and Taxation committee on the town's recovery.

DHCD Secretary Kenneth C. Holt walked legislators through the aftermath of the storm, which dumped 6.5 inches of rain on Ellicott City in the span of two hours July 30, swelling creeks and sending water coursing down Main Street, washing away cars and destroying store fronts in its path.

"It was in fact a catastrophic event... accompanied by human tragedy," he said.

Holt said his department has so far made 23 loans totaling $1.3 million to local businesses damaged by the storm, and has another six in the pipeline, adding up to an extra $1 million.

Roughly the first half of the $1.3 million spent so far came from the department's reserves, and the rest were drawn from a fund for catastrophic events, he said.

Once that money is exhausted, the state will pull from video lottery terminal funds — which Holt predicted would add up to $5 million over the next 18 months.

He estimated about 20 percent of the town's affected business owners are receiving help from DHCD. Terms of the state's loans are "flexible," he said: businesses who borrow don't have to pay anything back for the first year, between $5,000 and $10,000 of the loan is forgivable and interest on the loans is zero percent.

Other businesses have decided to close for good or relocate, such as the popular Rumor Mill Fusion Bar & Restaurant, which is looking for a new location.

The Howard County delegation this session is considering whether to sponsor several measures that would offer up more economic aid to the town and stormwater projects to protect it.

One proposal would exempt businesses in the county's historic districts, including Ellicott City, from paying property tax, while another offers a tax creidt on commercial property that has suffered flood damage.

A third bill suggests sending 10 percent of the county's transfer tax towards stormwater and flood control projects.

Meanwhile, recovery along Main Street continues: Twele told legislators that Friday will mark the reopening of All Time Toys, the 70th historic district business to reopen since the flood.

The town is also seeing new businesses crop up, such as E.C. Pops, a gourmet popcorn shop, according to Holt.

"Out of this tragedy is coming a magnificent revitalization," he said, "and I think the healing and the recovery is something we can all be very proud of and very optimistic (about) in the future."

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