Spending plan boosts Ellicott City, Elkridge

Areas to receive large share of construction budget

April 05, 2009|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,larry.carson@baltsun.com

Ellicott City and Elkridge would be the biggest beneficiaries of the $392 million capital budget proposed by Howard County Executive Ken Ulman.

The major renovation of Mount Hebron High School in Ellicott City would get another $16.5 million, Northfield Elementary would get an $11.1 million makeover into a certified "green" building, and the big new Miller library on Frederick Road would get $14.5 million to complete construction.

That's not all.

A temporary $4.1 million fire station would be built at the county's Mayfield Highway shop, and money to plan an addition to Bellows Spring Elementary also is included in the plan Ulman unveiled Wednesday. The county executive also is asking for $1.6 million to build the first two playing fields, bathrooms, a gazebo and parking at Troy Hill Park, at Route 100 and Interstate 95, in Elkridge.

"I am pleased we're able to make significant progress in the core priorities of public safety and education," he said.

Still some projects, such as building a 50-meter indoor swimming pool at an as-yet-undetermined location, were left out.

Ulman is asking for authority to borrow up to $100 million by selling general bonds to help finance the projects.

County Council member Courtney Watson, who represents Ellicott City and Elkridge, noted that 55 percent of the county's money is going to her district, easing concerns among her constituents that Columbia gets the lion's share of the fiscal attention in recent years. The County Council must vote on the request by June 1.

She pointed out that Ulman also included money for a consultant to work on a long-awaited design manual for the U.S. 40 corridor.

"This budget says he's really trying to balance out public amenities throughout the county," she said.

Calvin Ball, an east Columbia Democrat, was pleased by the Troy Hill funding, since the park is in his district, and by $5.3 million for construction of long-planned Blandair Park's first playing fields and other facilities south of Route 175. An additional $1 million would go to finish the North Laurel Park project, including a small skateboard facility farther south on U.S. 1.

Ulman's fire station plans include acquiring property near Route 175 and U.S. 1 for a permanent fire station. Once built, the Mayfield station would be used for equipment storage. Another modular station mainly for emergency medical crews would go at Glenwood, where a county library and community center already sit.

Overall, the county would put $52.5 million of local funding into school projects, part of a total $68.8 million for education, with the balance coming from state school construction funding. That's compared to the $95 million the school board requested and the $80 million the board got for fiscal 2009.

Board vice chairman Ellen Flynn Giles said that means big cuts in two important board priorities.

"I'm most worried about systemic renovations and technology upgrades," she said.

But Ulman and the county's budget director, Raymond S. Wacks, said they included enough in those categories to continue making progress. Money is included for renovations at Stevens Forest Elementary, Hammond Elementary and Hammond Middle, Ulman said.

Howard Community College would get $4.3 million to complete renovations of the Student Services building there and the county is prepared to match state funding for a new health instruction building.

An additional $95 million would go for water and sewer projects, which are funded separately, and $135.8 million more is in two new speculative categories, Wacks said. One would authorize the county to spend up to $68.8 million in federal stimulus finding, though both officials said there's no such money in sight. The other would authorize borrowing up to $67 million by selling Tax Incentive Financing bonds, though the county is planning to borrow only $17 million in that category now for a parking garage at the Savage MARC train station.

highlights

Total amount: $392 million

Schools: $68.8 million

Water and sewer: $95 million

Howard Community College: $4.3 million

Libraries: $15.1 million

Recreation and Parks: $10.3 million

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