Howard’s Approved Budget Provides Record Funding For Education, New Scholarship and Mental Health Initiatives

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The Howard County Council gave final approval recently to a $1.29 billion operating and capital budget for fiscal 2015.  The budget provides record funding for education, new scholarship and mental health initiatives, and improvements for Merriweather Post Pavilion.

From the County press release:

The budget contains $9.5 million in grant funding that will be provided to the Downtown Columbia Arts and Culture Commission, and then loaned to the Howard Hughes Corporation for Merriweather renovations. The funding would be held in a trust until spent, and would be available after the Howard Hughes Corporation spends an initial $9.5 million for the renovations. The renovations include a raised roof, new seating, new restrooms, and concession facilities. Construction would take place during five off-seasons, after which the venue would be transferred to the Downtown Columbia Arts and Culture Commission, which would gain a funding stream for expanded community arts and culture programming.

An article in the Baltimore Sun highlights other budget initiatives.

The school board received $530.4 million, which exceeded last year’s funding levels by more than $30 million. Some money was shifted around from the original proposal: $500,000 was added to a capital project that would move and replace some relocatable classrooms. The budget also removed $39,000 and $1.2 million in state funds for projects at Laurel Woods Elementary School and Patuxent Valley Middle School, respectively.

A $2.5 million grant for [Howard Community] college to use on the new Pathway Scholarship program was approved with certain conditions: students receiving a scholarship from the fund must be Howard County residents, and 40 percent of the fund must be reserved for students who aredually enrolled or have graduated from high school in the past six years or fewer.

The budget also funds multiple new mental health initiatives, introduced in response to a double murder-suicide at The Mall in Columbia this January. New additions include a second mobile crisis unit, an officer specially assigned to mental health matters and a mental health task force to identify and bridge gaps in mental health services.

Overall, the general fund budget grows by 5.85% while holding tax rates at current levels.