Returning Howard incumbents pledge 'more of the same'

Calvin Ball unanimously elected as new council chairman

December 09, 2010|By Larry Carson, The Baltimore Sun

Pledging "more of the same" leadership they exhibited over the last four years, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman and all five incumbent County Council members began their second term in office at swearing-in ceremonies Monday night at Howard High School.

With a blustery cold wind blowing outside the recently renovated building, Ulman said that despite recessionary budget pressures, he intends to continue pushing Howard to the forefront on issues like health care, the environment and technology. Howard is spearheading creation of a $115 million federally financed broadband fiber-optic network, and Ulman said he expects big things from the new federal cybersecurity command at nearby Fort Meade.

"Becoming the Silicon Valley of the East Coast is within our grasp," Ulman said in a interview shortly before being sworn in. "In those areas, we're going to continue to lead."

Recalling the speech he delivered four years ago at the start of his first term, Ulman told a smaller crowd, "We did what we said we were going to do." During his brief speech Monday, Ulman said he still wants to push the county ahead, regardless of the recession.

"We have become the place in Maryland where public-sector innovation is occurring," he said.

Several County Council members noted the unanticipated changes that have occurred since December 2006, and the fact that all the county's top elected officials were re-elected to a second term.

Courtney Watson, an Ellicott City Democrat, said her two oldest children had joked that the ceremony was "a rerun," and she added that she considers it "not only a new episode, but a new season." She also noted that in 2006, "we were happily ignorant " of the coming economic crises.

Calvin Ball, an East Columbia Democrat chosen unanimously as the new council chairman for the next year, vowed to continue the "fight for social justice," and Jen Terrasa, a King's Contrivance Democrat, vowed to work to "maintain the county's quality of life and keep Howard No. 1."

Mary Kay Sigaty, a West Columbia Democrat, said, "In all my life, there's only one job I've liked as much — and that was being a mom."

Fulton Republican Greg Fox noted the crowd was perhaps half or less of what it was four years ago, and said council members would continue to work together — though at the council meeting after the swearing-in, his bill to create a county veterans commission was allowed to die by the four Democrats. Instead, they introduced new legislation to create a citizens committee to further study the issue.

Democrats also assumed all of the council's top leadership posts, appointing Fox vice chairman of the liquor board under Sigaty. Terrasa was appointed vice chairwoman of the council, and Watson was chosen zoning board chairwoman. All of the votes on appointments were unanimous.

In the new term, the county government must create a new General Plan to guide land-use decisions and growth and keep watch on the plan to redevelop downtown Columbia, all while trying to avoid budget shortfalls caused by the recession and possible state spending moves.

A shift in teacher pension costs from the state to local governments could add up to $24 million to Howard's expenses next fiscal year, Ulman said before the ceremony. As the incoming president of the Maryland Association of Counties, Ulman said he will try to persuade General Assembly members not to do that. Budget cuts that would result "would be painful," he said.

Otherwise, Ulman said county revenues are running slightly above predictions and, unlike Montgomery County, Howard has no looming revenue gap this fiscal year. But Ulman said he is still not planning any tax rate increases. Over his first term, the county fire property tax increased 1 cent per $100 of assessed value to pay for fire and rescue services. No other general tax rates were raised.

The new term should also see major progress on a number of long-planned, large capital projects that are under construction, like the new Ellicott City library and historical center, the Robinson Nature Center, and the North Laurel Community Center and park. In addition, work is expected to begin soon on the first phase of Blandair Park in Columbia and Troy Hill regional park and tennis center in Elkridge, in addition to continuing school renovations.

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