Panel preparing for base-realignment impact

Task force to examine expected benefits and effects on roads, education, services

July 14, 2006|By JORGE VALENCIA | JORGE VALENCIA,SUN REPORTER

Although Howard County will face limited impact from the Pentagon's military base realignment, local government is moving to make sure the county is prepared for what some economists forecast would be the biggest defense-related beef-up in the region since World War II.

About 1,000 new homes are expected to be built in Howard County in the next decade because of the Pentagon's base re-shuffling, according to a draft Towson University study that predicts the base realignment will add about 28,000 households statewide during that period.

The county task force that began meeting Wednesday on the process -- known as base realignment and closure, or BRAC -- will examine the local benefits from new jobs, along with how the population increase will affect roads, mass transportation, education and community services.

The task force, formed in March by County Executive James N. Robey and Council Chairman Christopher J. Merdon, also will seek to determine ways the county can get federal and state funding for growth related to base realignment, especially at nearby Fort Meade.

"We don't want an organization that is looking for a job," said task force Chairman Kent Menser. "We want to fit the requirements of the county to identify the opportunities and challenges resulting from this expansion."

About 1,100 jobs would be created in the county through BRAC, compared with more than 45,000 in the state, according to the Towson University study prepared for the state Department of Business and Economic Development.

"It's difficult for me to say how accurate the figures are," Menser said. "That's why we have committees within the task force to gather the facts and review all of these studies."

The Howard task force is composed of 26 government, business and community leaders and will report preliminary findings to Robey in October, two months before his term expires.

"We'll make sure that we ... bring together all the facts so we can put those in a decision-making format to determine the actions that Howard County needs to take in support of BRAC," Menser said.

The County Council will be briefed on the task force's findings in October, Menser said, and a final report will be presented to the new county executive in January or February.

Menser will also hold town hall meetings the fourth Wednesday of every month at 7 p.m. in Ellicott City's George Howard Building so residents can ask questions about the process.

It is unclear what the task force's role will be next year and how the county administration will then act in response to the base realignment, which will be completed by 2011.

"It's too early to say what we will do because our job is requirement-driven, and right now we are just in the initial stages and we're trying to determine what our requirements are," said Menser, who has a one-year contract with the county through next summer.

jorge.valencia@baltsun.com

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