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Ball's first 'listening session' draws comments on Howard County transportation, development, housing costs and Ellicott City flood mitigation

Howard Executive Calvin Ball didn’t have much to say during a meeting with local residents Monday in Columbia.

That was the point.

For 90 minutes, the Democrat who was sworn in last week as county executive listened to questions and comments from a crowd of more than 130 people at the Florence Bain Senior Center. Moderated by Lowell Sunderland, a retired editor for The Baltimore Sun, the event was the first of seven listening sessions Ball has scheduled around the county.

Rebecca Aaron, a spokeswoman for the executive, said comments collected from the sessions would be posted on the government website.

Monday’s event saw the audience at the senior center ask unscripted questions. Seniors are a growing segment of the county’s demographics; more than 13 percent of Howard’s population of 321,113 is age 65 and older, according to census data.

At least 10 residents asked Ball to intensify Howard’s public transportation network. The county contracts the Regional Transportation Agency of Central Maryland to operate daily buses. One audience member — who did not identify herself — suggested specifically that Ball consider creating routes to help citizens get to the Howard County Public Schools System office and the George Howard government building in Ellicott City.

Other speakers expressed concerns on various issues. Stu Kohn, president of Howard County Citizens Association, suggested that the rate of the county’s development is outpacing its infrastructure: “Not only roads and schools, but [emergency medical services], fire, police, utilities and the hospital,” he said.

“What has precedence?” Kohn asked. “Development or the quality of life?”

Former County Executive Liz Bobo expressed her concern for housing prices, saying Columbia may be “slipping away” from the affordability model set forth by founder James Rouse.

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“It is certainly not all because of county government,” Bobo, a Democrat who endorsed Ball and who for 20 years represented the county in the House of Delegates, said. “I want us to do everything we can to prevent Columbia particularly from becoming a place where you have to be upper income to live here.”

Howard is the region’s most expensive places to purchase a home. The October median home sale price was $375,000, according to data provided by MarketStats by ShowingTime based on listing activity from Bright MLS.

Another resident asked Ball to assure citizens that he wouldn’t raise taxes as he addressed concerns put forth during the meeting. Ball, in a November interview, said he does “not at this time intend on increasing any taxes.”

One comment from those gathered was pointed toward the issue of flooding in historic Ellicott City. Throughout his campaign, Ball positioned himself as an opponent of some aspects of a $50 million flood plan supported by his predecessor, Republican Allan Kittleman. Since the election he has said he wants to review the plan closely.

While Ball has declined to say if he will support acquiring buildings in the historic district for potential demolition, he has said he intends to keep the timeline of flood mitigation projects upstream.

Sherry Fackler-Berkowitz, a business and property owner in historic Ellicott City, expressed concern about delays in a decision on the possible purchase of buildings, saying, “I am running out of money and I am running out of time. We would like to know when are you going to make a decision.”

Last week Ball said he would address funding for flood mitigation during the upcoming budget cycle — the first hearing for the budget will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the George Howard government building.

Additional listening sessions will take place:

Monday, Dec. 17, at North Laurel Community Center, 9411 Whiskey Bottom Rd, Laurel, 1 p.m.

Tuesday, Dec. 18 , at Howard High School, 8700 Old Annapolis Road, Ellicott City, 7 p.m.

Thursday, Dec. 20, at Long Reach High School, 6101 Old Dobbin Lane, Columbia, 7 p.m.

Monday, Jan. 7, at Centennial High School, 4300 Centennial Lane, Ellicott City, 7 p.m.

Thursday, Jan. 10, at Glenelg High School, 14025 Burntwoods Road, Glenelg, 7 p.m.

Monday, Jan. 14, at Hammond High School, 8800 Guilford Road, Columbia, 7 p.m.

Wednesday, Jan. 16, at Wilde Lake High School, 5460 Trumpeter Road, Columbia, 7 p.m.

Friday, Jan. 18, at Elkridge Library, 6540 Washington Blvd, Elkridge, 10:30 a.m.

In addition, the county executive will host a live Twitter chat from noon to 1 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 10, at @HoCoGovExec, #Futureofhoco.

This story has been updated with additional dates.

elogan@baltsun.com

twitter.com/erinblogan

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