What about the cost of BRAC?

Spending panel tries to gauge impact of new jobs, residents on county's budget proposals

January 31, 2007|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Sun reporter

The federal Base Realignment and Closing process could bring Howard County $31 million in added tax revenues, 2,259 jobs and 1,853 more residents over a period of five to seven years, Kent Menser, executive director of the county's BRAC task force, told county Spending Affordability Committee members yesterday.

But although the federal government is willing to pay for studies of the expected impact on schools, roads and housing in Maryland localities, it isn't yet known whether federal money will help ease any of those effects, Menser said.

"Will the federal government help the county defray those costs?" asked Bruce Rothchild, a committee member.

"I don't know at this point," Menser replied.

The Spending Affordability Committee is trying to gauge how much to recommend that County Executive Ken Ulman and the County Council borrow for infrastructure projects via municipal bond sales next budget year.

One problem is that it takes years to plan and build highways and schools, and enlarge water and sewer capabilities, while Menser said the first slight impacts from the base realignment could begin next year. The bulk of the 14,000 jobs now expected to come to central Maryland in the areas around Fort Meade and the National Security Agency will start arriving in three years.

A state Planning Department report recently warned that without prompt government action, the coming federal influx could make traffic and school congestion worse and contribute to suburban sprawl.

Menser's latest figures show that although the nearest federal installations drawing jobs are in Anne Arundel County, nearly 600 jobs with defense-related contractors should come to Howard County, plus 1,500 more indirect, support jobs provided by suppliers and service firms for those contractors. Another 178 local jobs, such as teachers, police and restaurant workers, should come, too, for a total of 2,259.

Menser said about 1,853 BRAC families are expected to live in Howard, with nearly 1,600 of them buying homes in the county. All that economic activity is expected to produce about $9.5 million in property taxes, $14.4 million in income taxes and $7 million in state and other local tax revenues over the five to seven years of the BRAC's top impact.

Ulman is trying to prepare. As part of the Fort Meade Regional BRAC Task Force, Howard County is supporting a request for a $1.86 million grant to study things like traffic growth on Howard's major highways, and how it would affect Howard's human services systems.

Ulman specifically mentioned the need for up to $200 million to widen Interstate 70 from U.S. 29 to Marriottsville Road, make interchange improvements there and improve Ridge Road at U.S. 40.

He met Monday with U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, who said the Maryland congressional delegation is working to get federal funding for BRAC-related needs in Maryland.

"We're looking at item by item. We have the will. Now we're going to try to find the wallet," Mikulski said during a break in the meeting.

Ulman said, "We're all sort of working through this together," but added that he is looking for education aid and infrastructure assistance as well as federal funds for more county police officers.

Meanwhile, the county's current limits on residential development and plans for school renovations and expansions haven't been changed to account for BRAC.

"We're looking at whether BRAC fits the model" the county is using to plan for new classrooms and school renovations, said Raymond Brown, the school system's chief operating officer, who also is on the committee.

Menser said the added families will mean more competition for homes in Howard, adding to pressures that are pushing housing prices higher.

But the retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel and former Fort Meade commander also warned that the figures he is using are projections that could change.

"The task force is about getting the latest, most accurate information to the customers in the county," Menser said. "I'm a clearinghouse for information," he said, but warned, "don't mortgage your house based on these figures."

County planner Jeff Bronow, who also spoke to the committee, said the county expects to have a population of 292,861 by 2010 - an increase of 45,000 since the 2000 census. Land now zoned for development would allow up to about 30,000 new housing units in the county, and Bronow said more than half of those - about 16,000 units - are in the county's development processing pipeline.

Despite public criticism that development is moving too fast, he said the pace of growth this decade is expected to be about 18 percent, compared with a 92 percent growth rate between 1970 and 1980 - Columbia's peak growth years.

larry.carson@baltsun.com

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