Howard County Executive Calvin Ball on Friday unveiled a $377.7 million capital projects spending plan which, if adopted, would spend more money on classroom construction than at any time in the past two decades.
Classroom crowding is a persistent issue in the Howard County public school system, which is highly regarded for its instructional quality. Ball said that projects he has funded will add 2,400 classroom spaces by the end of 2023.
In addition to school construction, the capital plan that Ball sent to the County Council on Friday contains the highest funding in eight years for road resurfacing and parks and recreation, while also investing $36.4 million on flood control projects in Ellicott City and elsewhere.
“The investments we are proposing are prudent, but they are bold, and Howard County residents will see the benefits quickly,” Ball said in a statement. “Our fiscal discipline over several years has created the capacity so we can now make unparalleled progress in education, public safety, transportation and more, and build a better future for all of Howard County.”
The county executive’s proposal fully funds a $105.9 million construction request from the Howard County Board of Education. A county funding commitment of $54.3 million for K-12 public schools is being matched by $51.6 million in state funding, secured with the assistance of the Howard County legislative delegation and others in the General Assembly.
Ball, a Democrat, is seeking re-election this year. Over the past four years of his administration, funding for school construction has increased by more than $78 million compared with the previous administration. Projects funded in the budget include construction of the county’s 13th high school, in Jessup, expected to be completed in August 2023; and a major renovation and capacity-adding addition at Hammond High School, to be completed in December 2023.
Other education-related items in the capital budget include:
• $14.8 million for a new Mathematics and Athletic complex at Howard Community College, matched by state funding.
• $1.7 million to begin design of a new library branch in Downtown Columbia, with the anticipates that construction of a new state-of-the-art Central Library will begin in FY24, with $82.8 million earmarked for this groundbreaking project.
The County said the FY23 capital program contains $12.5 million in road resurfacing – the highest in last eight years – to address an ongoing maintenance backlog while avoiding more costly repairs and reconstruction in the future.
It also includes a record $8.2 million for bike lanes, sidewalks, curb ramps and other project to help implement the county’s Pedestrian Master Plan, the Bicycle Master Plan and the Complete Streets policy, which Ball said is a priority.
The $19 million for recreation and parks programs contained in the proposal is the largest investment in eight years, and includes funding for the potential acquisition of a local Girl Scout Camp known as Camp Ilchester
Ball said that fiscal discipline has allowed Howard County to accumulate significant budget reserves and maintain its AAA bond rating, which has meant that the investments are “affordable and sustainable.”
The Howard County Council has scheduled hearings on the capital budget in April and May, with a final vote to come on May 25.