Today, Howard County Executive Calvin Ball released his Fiscal Year 2021 (FY 2021) Operating Budget for Howard County Government. In the midst of a challenging fiscal climate, significant efforts were made to maintain core services and support priorities, including education, public safety, and health. The General Fund Budget, which supports a majority of government services, totals $1.19 billion, an increase of 2.6 percent from prior year. County’s Executive Ball presented his budget to the Howard County Council this evening, video can be found here.
“While we have managed to support many of our priorities in the FY 2021 operating budget, this budget is historic due to its finalization during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Ball. “Many of the decisions were made with our new realities, projections, and limitations due to the response and fiscal impact of the virus on our residents, stakeholders, and communities. During this unprecedented time, we recognized how critical it is to ensure core County services and support priorities. We are proud that the proposed budget funded the Howard County Public School System at above Maintenance of Effort levels, supports key public safety operations, and invests in our health infrastructure.”
By leveraging different funding sources, this proposed budget delivers on supporting the following priorities:
· Funding the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) at above Maintenance of Effort level amid the current economic climate;
· Supporting various government services with no major service cuts;
· Protecting County employees from layoffs and honoring salary increases when many employees are providing essential services to the public and aiding in addressing long-term impacts of the pandemic;
· Providing needed help to mitigate the impact from this unprecedented pandemic, including $500,000 for a Disaster Relief and Recovery Initiative to address gaps in support and services for residents that arise as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold.
The proposed FY 2021 Operating Budget provides historically high funding to the school system, community college and library system. Despite the current fiscal challenges, the County has proposed $620.3 million for the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS), a $13.1 million increase over last year’s budget and exceeding Maintenance of Effort (MOE) levels by $2.7 million. Comparatively, during the last recession (FY 2010), the County funded HCPSS at MOE levels.
Additional highlights included in the FY 2021 budget:
Ready and Successful Students
· $36.6 million for Howard Community College, an increase of $717,000.
· $21.9 million for the Howard County Library System, an increase of $429,000.
· $400,000 for HoCo STRIVES Education Initiative.
Safe and Engaged Communities
· Two new positions at the Police Department to fortify that operation of the new Next Generation 911 system.
· Two Fire Department Academy Classes in FY 2021 to offset attrition and add 49 net new sworn positions to support critical fire and emergency medical services
· $2.4 million to implement the Fire Department’s carcinogen reduction plan
· A new School Bus Camera program to enhance the safety of students boarding school buses.
Thriving and Healthy Residents
· $1.5 million to support Howard County General Hospital’s capital priorities.
· $750,000 to bring a residential treatment facility for substance use disorders to Howard County.
· Support to CAREAPP, a web-based portal that connects residents with health resources and services.
· A diversion program, by the Health and Police Departments, for low-level drug offenses to community-based services instead of jail time.
Clean and Sustainable Environment
· A one-time investment of $1.4 million in a new radio-frequency-identification based fuel system, which is expected to generate between 10 and 15 percent of on-going savings in fuel usage per year.
· A new Energy Analyst position to support the County’s energy management programs, energy and utility use and cost reduction efforts, and the processing and tracking of utility, energy, and fuel billing.
· To reach a goal of purchasing 20% of electricity from renewable energy by 2024, the County is entering into a 25-year agreement to buy up to 50 million kWh per year of Renewable Energy from Solar Facilities, with expected savings of about $1.0 million over the agreement period. The solar energy provider will build and operate, at no cost to the County, at least eight Solar Facilities at various sites, both County and non-county owner.
Reliable and Accessible Infrastructure
· $4.9 million CIP Pay-As-You-Go to address a road resurfacing backlog
· $138,000 in funding to expand Phase II of the Transit Development Plan, including providing service between Columbia Mall and the Howard County Public School System Campus
· The County will forgo $22,000 in FY 2021 transit revenue and leverage current capacity on the RTA System to initiate the Student Transit Access to Ride (STAR) program for public students to better utilize the RTA routes serving six public high schools
Strong and Prosperous Businesses
· $500,000 to support Downtown Columbia arts including Merriweather Post Pavilion
· Funding to Tourism Council kept unchanged at FY20 level of $1 million despite a significant drop in designated revenues (hotel/motel tax)
Innovative and Efficient Government
· A moderate cost of living adjustment and step increases (for qualifying employees)
· $282,000 in funding to convert 11 full-time contingent park maintenance workers to full time employees to provide health insurance coverage and improve equity.
In addition, to support transparent governance, $750,000 in funding will be made available to establish the County’s first Citizen’s Election Fund as recommended by the Citizens’ Election Fund Commission. By providing matching funds to small donations from ordinary people, the fund will promote and encourage broader access to elected office in Howard County and help prevent large donations from having undue influence in government.
Howard County’s FY 2021 Operating Budget details can be found here.
You can watch the video from Facebook here:
I am expecting a few articles on the blog from the information provided this evening. I just need some time to work through all of the details in the proposed budget book…stay tuned.