The Howard County Council yesterday passed the FY 21 operating and capital budgets. The final vote represents the passage of approximately 98% of County Executive Calvin Ball’s proposed operating budget and an approximate 1.2% spending increase from FY 20.
This amended budget allows for continuity of County services and fiscally responsible borrowing during economically uncertain times associated with the COVID-19 health crisis.
“It has been a challenging few months but in the end, the Council came together and passed a balanced budget as required by law, Council Chair Deb Jung said. “Our FY 21 budget is fiscally responsible but at the same time will allow our government to continue to provide the services Howard Countians appreciate. We will continue to do all that we can to make sure that our County remains on the strong economic footing.”
The operating budget provides historically high funding to the school system, community college, and library system. With the support of a quarter percentage point increase in the transfer tax to 1.25 percent, the capital budget maintains support to three high-priority school construction projects.
Despite the current fiscal challenges, the Council approved $620.3 million for the Howard County Public School System, a $13.1 million increase over last year’s budget and exceeding the maintenance of effort requirement by $2.7 million.
“Despite the current economic climate and challenging circumstances under which this budget was produced, we’re pleased to fund our school system above maintenance of effort, avoid County employee layoffs, and support emergency COVID-19 relief funding,” County Executive Ball said. “I remain committed to working with the members of our Council, stakeholders, residents, and all members of our community to ensure that our government provides the best services possible and high quality of life to all Howard County residents.”
According to a County press release:
In addition to education funding, the following priorities were fully funded in the adopted FY 21 Operating Budget:
• $500,000 for the Disaster Relief and Recovery Initiative for COVID-19.
• $1.5 million to support Howard County General Hospital’s capital priorities.
• Solar purchasing power agreement to buy up to 50 million kWh per year of Renewable Energy from Solar Facilities, with expected savings of about $1.0 million over the agreement period.
• $750,000 to bring a residential treatment facility for substance use disorders to Howard County.
• The County will initiate the Student Transit Access to Ride (STAR) program for public students to better utilize the RTA routes serving six public high schools.
• A moderate cost of living adjustment and step increases for qualifying employees.
• $750,000 in funding will be made available to establish the County’s first Citizen’s Election Fund.
The adopted FY 21 Capital Budget includes:
• $11.3 million in County funding for High School #13.
• $15.1 million in County funding for the Talbott Springs Elementary School replacement.
• $21.5 million in County funding toward the Hammond High School renovation and addition to increase capacity.
• $5.4 million for Howard Community College new mathematics and athletics complex.
• $63 million from program and incremental tax revenues for the New Cultural Center in Downtown Columbia contingent on further Council approval.
• $20.2 million to support the Ellicott City Safe and Sound Plan which includes anticipated State aid for:
o Storm drain improvements
o Design and construction of large flood mitigation
Capital projects that are in jeopardy and no longer have a clear timeline for completion include the East Columbia 50+ Senior Center and pedestrian and bicycle construction projects.
The New Cultural Center in Downtown Columbia and North Columbia Fire Station were funded, but the projects are contingent on further Council approval. Additionally, in the adopted operating budget, 38 positions across County agencies were defunded that are currently vacant.