As he prepares to move into the county executive’s suite in less than a month, Calvin Ball says he needs more information before deciding if he will get behind a $50 million plan that could dramatically remake historic Ellicott City to better protect against major flooding.
Ball, a Democrat who upset Republican Allan Kittleman, has spent a dozen years on the County Council, where he hewed what some consider a progressive path on social issues, urged restraint in development and zoning and touted the importance of maintaining a quality school system.
He will have to work with an entirely new, majority Democratic five-member County Council in dealing with a flood control project to mitigate flooding in historic Ellicott City— a plan he voted against partially funding as councilman earlier this year.
Ball said he voted against the plan because it did not address his concerns including diverting county funds from other projects.
In an interview a day after Tuesday’s election, Ball said he wanted to place a greater priority on methods to reduce the potential of flooding upstream from the historic district and “wants to see the data” that ensures the current plans maintains a “level of safety.”
Ball declined to say if he would acquire 13 buildings slated for demolition as he would “not know where the deals will be in the process” when he takes office.
“I want to better understand what we would do if it were acquired and what we would do if it wasn’t acquired,” said Ball.
Kittleman aide Andrew Barth said the acquisitions will happen under Ball’s watch as funds will not be available until December, when a new council and executive are sworn in.
Ball also said the county needs to bring in an expert to study more closely boring tunnels to help channel floodwaters — an alternative that was explored in 2016 that is said to only be effective if the Patapsco River stays at a certain level, according to Mark Deluca, deputy director of public works.
Kittleman and Councilman Jon Weinstein, who both lost re-election bids, in August announced the flood-control plan which includes razing 13 buildings to widen streambeds and create an open space. The area might be replaced with public spaces, a concert stage and a parking deck.
“As long as there are buildings built over the stream [on Lower Main Street], anything upstream would be limited in its effectiveness,” Jon Weinstein, outgoing Democratic councilman who represents historic Ellicott City, said in an interview Wednesday night.
The five-year plan, which Weinstein helped finalize, was modeled on a deadly 2016 flood that pushed more than 8 feet of water onto lower Main Street. The current plan is designed to decrease the water speed and reduce the amount of floodwater in a similar storm to 4 to 6 feet.
“It’s a fool's errand to think we can get to zero feet of water on lower Main Street,” Weinstein said.
The town is built in a 100-year floodplain and has seen two 1,000 year storms since 2016.
“Four feet of water will allow people to go into buildings and be safe [when a storm hits],” Weinstein said, adding that “delaying to find a solution that has not been uncovered in the last seven years of research, is playing Russian Roulette with the next flood,” Weinstein said.
Arguably Ball’s biggest selling point during the campaign was his support of education.
The county executive-elect, who has pledged to be an advocate for education, business and social programs, also has yet to provide specifics on other program priorities he promoted during his campaign, including how he would fund new school programs with local tax dollars.
Ball was heralded in May by the Howard County Education Association for voting with three councilmembers in favor of allocating $5.6 million to the county budget as to ensure that class size did not increase as it has twice in the past five years.
This vote was criticized by the Republican Councilman Greg Fox, who represents the western portion of the county. He labeled it a move to appease voters.
In his campaign platform and responses to questions, Ball has pledged to increase education spending to ease classroom crowding in public schools and boost access to career education programs. The county funds about 70 percent of the high-achieving school system’s $860 million operating budget and has plans in the works to build new high schools in Jessup and Elkridge by 2028.
Ball said future monies would be found when looking at the overall budget and he would determine with department heads how to make and “effective” and “efficient” use of the modus operandi.
Ball said he would beef up the commercial tax base by continuing and intensifying the county’s strategy of growing businesses to boost tax revenues and attract outside companies. He pointed to a statewide ballot question approved this week that would dedicate more funds from casino taxes toward education.
Ball said he believes addressing the minimum wage should be done at a state level to eliminate potential competition for businesses between counties.
Ball during a September press conference said he wanted to ensure all school employees earn a living wage under his vision for Howard’s school system.
Though experts deem $13.28 per hour a living wage for a single adult Howard household, campaign spokesman Jamila Ratliff in a September email declined to provide a specific dollar amount under Ball’s campaign promise, saying the Democrat believes it “is less about a static dollar amount and should take into account where the jobs are and the cost of living.”