Announces “HoCo RISE Collaborative” comprised of independent workgroups to assist Howard County’s recovery from COVID-19
Yesterday, Howard County Executive Calvin Ball delivered the inaugural Howard County “State of County” address virtually to Howard County residents. Under the theme, “We Rise Together,” Ball addressed the county’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and announced the next major step in the county’s recovery effort, “The HoCo RISE Collaborative” an effort, chaired by former Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, comprised of five independent workgroups that will focus on: jobs and the economy, education and workforce development, healthcare, quality of life, and government response. During his speech Ball highlighted Howard County’s COVID response and recovery, economic challenges ahead, as well as non-COVID issues and opportunities such as flood mitigation in Ellicott City, environmental sustainability efforts, education funding and support services, and public safety, equity, and mental health initiatives launched during the past year. Video of the State of County Speech can be watched here.
“Tonight, in our inaugural public State of the County, I want to talk directly to you – our residents and business owners of Howard County. As we’ve spent many of the last months filled with anxiety and uncertainty, I can confidently say, the state of Howard County is strong and resilient,” said Ball during his speech. “From great adversity emerges enduring strength. We are putting people back to work safely, assisting those in need, and making sure Howard County is striving, not only to be the best overall, but for all. Throughout this year, we have tackled many challenges, and while we’re not out of the woods just yet, we know that if we work together – we rise together.”
Ball also announced the launch of a government-wide serology effort so that members of the County workforce can determine if they have antibodies for COVID-19. While antibodies do not necessarily mean people are immune to COVID-19, it does provide a better understanding of the scope of potential initial spread of the virus from this Spring.
Throughout his remarks, Ball reflected on the county’s impact from and response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ball highlighted the county’s swift reaction upon the first confirmed case to declare a State of Emergency and immediate closing of the Mall at Columbia to establishing a robust and holistic emergency response and a data analytic hub created to assist the county in making data informed decisions. Ball recognized and thanked Howard County’s COVID heroes such as doctors, nurses, hospital staff, first responders, essential workers and volunteers. He also noted the collaboration and partnership throughout the pandemic with organizations such as the Howard County General Hospital, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, Columbia Community Care, along with essential Howard County Government departments such as the Howard County Health Department, Fire and Rescue Services, Office of Emergency Management, the Department of Community Resources and Services, and the Department of Technology and Communications Services.
Ball emphasized and detailed specific county COVID response and recovery efforts such as:
· Acquiring enough PPE for essential healthcare organizations, including 300,000 units of PPE donated from local community organizations.
· Creating online mapping tools for families to find food distribution sites and establish areas of collection to navigate the ever-expanding needs, supporting farmers through HoCo Farm Connect for residents to invest in our community farms and buy local produce, and boosting business at our restaurants through HoCo Food Go.
· Allocating from the County’s $57 million in CARES Act funding toward:
o $28 million to the Howard County Health Department to support critical efforts to combat the virus
o $5.7 million to support struggling industries across our county through the HoCo RISE Business Grant program
o $3.58 million dollars to provide rental assistance for up to three months for more than 800 families facing lost income due to COVID-19
o $1.5 million in Rise to the Challenge Grants to 40 non-profits providing critical services and support to residents
Financially, Ball noted Howard County achieved a AAA bond rating from all three rating agencies for the 23rd year in row, which provides a good foundation for future recovery. Yet in the absence of further immediate relief at the Federal level, the State of Maryland is likely facing a projected revenue shortfall of $100 million in FY21. This state-wide budget reality will significantly impact Howard County’s financial future.
Ball also addressed several critical areas and issues outside of the county’s COVID-19 response such as:
- Continued progress on the Ellicott City Safe and Sound Plan
- Installing higher ground signage, an electronic gate system that opens up privately owned access points to higher elevation and successful activation of the tone alert system twice this summer.
- Removing more than 28 tons of debris from our streams by clearing clogged waterways after significant weather events
- Securing full funding for five of the Safe and Sound plan’s key mitigation projects and anticipate that these projects will go to construction within the next 18 months, and
- Completing preliminary research and design work on the North Tunnel project and continue to move forward with design and permitting.
- The county’s impressive Census self-response rate of 80.8%, ranking Howard County 31st in the nation for response rate, despite the challenges of the pandemic.
- Record funding investment in school construction and renovation projects as well as expanded wraparound education supports for HoCo S.T.R.I.V.E.S
- Launching the HoCo By Design General Plan and finalizing the Ellicott City Watershed Master Plan
- Updating the county’s Forest Conservation Act after two decades and Agriculture Preservation Program
- Opening the 24/7 Crisis Intervention Center at Grassroots and committing $1.5 million toward Howard County first residential treatment center to support substance misuse recovery
“I am incredibly optimistic when I hear the ways in which our community has rediscovered the connections that matter and worked to elevate one another,” concluded Ball. “Every day, I see acts of kindness and glimmers of hope that we will overcome this challenging period in our Nation and in our own backyard. It is my absolute honor to serve as your County Executive. I believe that we will not be defeated and that we will rise together.”