By now many of you have heard some of the details of the 2020 proposed operating budget released by Howard County Executive Ball…if not…here is what his administration announce via press release on April 18th:

ELLICOTT CITY, MD – Today, Howard County Executive Calvin Ball released his Fiscal Year 2020 (FY20) Operating Budget for Howard County Government. Projected General Fund revenue growth is modest, partly due to uncertainty around a potential economic downturn. Despite this challenge, the budget fully supports the community’s priorities, including the most funding ever provided to the Howard County Public School System, stronger public safety, improved health, a cleaner environment, reliable infrastructure, prosperous businesses, and an innovative, efficient government. The General Fund Budget, which supports the majority of government services, totals $1.2 billion, an increase of 1.8 percent from the prior year. County budget details can be found here.

“Though we are facing a tough fiscal climate, this budget invests in Howard County, maintaining our national reputation as one of the best places to live, work, and play,” said Ball. “With historically high funding to education, strengthened public safety funding, support for preserving our environment and investments in public health and wellness, my proposal will protect our exceptional quality of life. I look forward to working with my colleagues on the Howard County Council as they review this proposed operating budget.”

The following items represent a small summary of important initiatives included in this proposed budget:

Ready and Successful Students

  • $605.2 million in County funding for Howard County public schools. The FY 2020 County funding is $5.4 million above the required Maintenance of Effort (MOE) level, higher than the average over the last 10 years
  • Fully funding the collective bargaining agreement of the HCPSS
  • Continued support to special education and other priorities of the school system
  • $64 million for debt service payments for HCPSS capital projects and Other Post Employment Benefit (OPEB) contributions to fund the long-term retiree health benefit needs of school employees
  • $35.8 million for Howard Community College
  • $21.5 million for the Howard County Library System
  • $400,000 for HoCo S.T.R.I.V.E.S. to support children’s mental and behavioral health programs; academic, social, and emotional learning supports; and community capacity building

Safe and Engaged Communities

  • A new academy class of 45 trainees for the Department of Fire and Rescue Services
  • Converting the Banneker Station’s second, part-time ambulance to full-time
  • Funding towards the construction of Waterloo and North Columbia fire stations
  • Expanded emergency medical services in Columbia, expanded Command and EMS supervisory coverage in the West, and enhanced community outreach
  • A proposed six-cent increase in the Fire and Rescue Tax, which has not been changed since FY 2013, and a fire ambulance fee charged to insurance companies, which has already been implemented in all other counties in Maryland. These changes, based on recommendations from the Spending Affordability Advisory Committee and key stakeholders, are necessary to keep the Fire Fund in solvency and allow investment in critical services
  • $487,000 to the Police Department to support the new school bus camera enforcement initiative and keep students safe

Thriving and Healthy Residents

  • Innovative partnership with the private sector to establish a new, residential treatment facility to provide the full continuum of care for substance use disorders, including opioids
  • $343,000 in operating assistance for Howard County General Hospital (HCGH), to support Practice Howard and behavioral health navigators
  • $250,000 to The Sheppard Pratt Health System for construction of an outpatient medical, mental health, and substance use disorder services facility
  • A mobile unit for community-based opioid initiatives
  • Support for CARE Line, which provides information and referral services for children
  • A ‘Live Where You Work’ rental subsidy program, the Settlement / Down Payment Loan Program, and the RENEW Howard program for aging neighborhoods
  • Recreation and Parks “Encore” programs for those over 55
  • Expanded services for individuals with disabilities

Clean and Sustainable Environment

  • Funding to convert all of Howard County’s streetlights to LED. Over 20 years, this investment is expected to generate cost savings of more than $3 million and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2,756 metric tons, the equivalent of taking 585 cars off the road
  • Expanded food scrap collection program to almost 10,000 new homes
  • $100,000 in additional funding to EcoWorks operating needs
  • $61,000 to the University of Maryland Extension for the Watershed Academy

Reliable and Accessible Infrastructure

  • $5 million PAYGO transfer to address a backlog of road resurfacing projects
  • $3.5 million to finish multiple strategic relocations for the construction of a new courthouse, the establishment of a new business innovation center in Gateway, and continued support for the Non-Profit Collaborative
  • Implementation of the first phase of the Consolidated Transit Plan’s recommendations, including a major reconfiguration of the county’s bus routes with a focus on more frequent service, shorter trip times and expanded Sunday service

Strong and Prosperous Businesses

  • Continued support for the Downtown Columbia plan
  • The Gateway Innovation Center is under construction and expected to finish the first phase in FY 2020. It will serve as a nexus for ideas, collaboration and business support, and provide focused services for small, minority, woman, and veteran-owned businesses
  • Continued commitment to Merriweather Post Pavilion, with $600,000 to support renovations

Innovative and Efficient Government

  • $250,000 PAYGO to promote innovation initiatives across government and develop the County’s Innovation Blueprint
  • This will include training and grants for innovative programs that yield a measurable return

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I wanted to look at the most expensive part of the Howard County budget…the school system. As noted above the proposed 2020 operating budget amount is $605,200,000.

Here is the operating budget amount approved in previous years:

  • 2020: $605,200,000 (proposed)
  • 2019: $600,053,881
  • 2018: $572,871,655
  • 2017: $562,244,625
  • 2016: $544,144,625
  • 2015: $530,439,861

Another aspect of the HCPSS budget is the Other Post Employment Benefit (OPEB) and Debt Service operating costs. Here are the approved amounts over the years per the county budget documents:

  • YEAR: OPEB | Debt Service
  • 2020: $8,426,553 | $55,575,800 (proposed)
  • 2019: $10,344,737 | $55,198,943
  • 2018: $10,606,000 | $55,944,513
  • 2017: $8,580,000 | $46,712,221
  • 2016: $6,600,700 | $44,662,265
  • 2015: $6,564,000 | $44,646,165

There is zero question that 2020 is a difficult budget year for Howard County and the 2020 numbers for HCPSS is significantly less than what the Howard County Board of Education requested ($689,328,101). To be honest…they knew they were not going to get that amount of money. I have not seen any public comments yet about their thoughts on what was proposed (I am just getting back to town and have not seen much on social media the past few days).

Have thoughts on any aspect of the proposed budget…let me know in the comments.

Scott E

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