As 2020 comes to a close, Howard County Executive Calvin Ball released his administration’s mid-term accomplishments and progress on behalf of the residents of Howard County. The County Executive continued his administration’s progress under his seven pillars that empowers Ready and Successful Students, establishes Safe and Engaged Communities, champions a Clean and Sustainable Environment, invests in Thriving and Healthy Residents, builds Reliable and Accessible Infrastructure, and expands Strong and Prosperous Businesses while fostering an Innovative and Efficient Government.
“I could not be prouder of the progress the Howard County Government has made for our residents over the last two years,” said Ball. “This administration has faced challenges that could not have been foreseen two years ago including the worst pandemic in the last century, the longest federal shutdown in our nation’s history, and the health and economic impacts that we have incurred. Despite dealing with adversity, this government has continued to create successes while making history as our County maintains its reputation as one of best of the jurisdictions in this nation to live, work and play.”
Over the past two years, the Ball Administration has been dedicated to fulfilling the County Executive’s mission to efficiently, effectively, and respectfully serve the residents, businesses, and visitors of Howard County.
In a second year marked by a global pandemic, the ongoing response and recovery to COVID-19 required swift and thorough action to keep Howard County residents and businesses safe and healthy. A vital part of Howard County’s recovery included the distribution of nearly $57 million in federal CARES Act funding to support vital services for residents and economic support for businesses.
As early as January and February of 2020, Howard County began to prepare and educate its residents regarding the threat of the COVID-19 virus. The County was the first jurisdiction in the State to hold a press conference in early March and upon Howard County’s first case, County Executive Ball declared a State of Emergency and closed The Mall at Columbia and the Shops at Savage Mill. Furthermore, the County created a COVID-19 dashboard and utilized the Howard County Data, Analytics and Statistics Hub (HoCo DASH), created by County Executive Ball in 2019, to make “data informed, people driven,” decisions throughout the year.
Under the direction of County Executive Ball, Howard County has prioritized support to the county’s most vulnerable residents who have been disproportionally impacted by COVID’s health and economic impacts. The County has been at the forefront of serology testing through an unprecedented partnership with the John’s Hopkins Advanced Physics Laboratory. During the Ball Administration’s first year in office, it established the Community Organizations Active in Disasters (COAD), a consortium of volunteers and organizations that provide support to the government’s emergency response. Because of this important undertaking, the County’s response to COVID-19 has been truly a unified community effort.
These innovative and aggressive actions, along with the engagement and compliance of county businesses, residents, and stakeholders resulted in Howard County’s case rate per population and positivity rate being in the lower third statewide throughout the pandemic. As the county turns its focus to significantly reducing infections and recovering from COVID in 2021, the establishment of the HoCo RISE Collaborative, a coalition of community stakeholders, and the StayCOVIDSafe campaign, a holistic communication campaign to educate and encourage vaccination and health messaging, will ensure that Howard County eliminates the spread of the disease while reviving and rebounding the county’s economy.
While Howard County’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been the priority of the Ball Administration, it has continued to build upon the success from the first year in office. By adapting and protecting County employees to work at full strength during the pandemic through proper procurement of PPE and implementing telework policies, all services of the Howard County Government remained open to the public while creating new policies and practices.
County Executive Ball is focused on moving Howard County forward based on seven pillars that positively impact the residents, businesses, and stakeholders of the county with smart, sustainable, and pragmatic policies.
- Ready and Successful Students
- Safe and Engaged Communities
- Clean and Sustainable Environment
- Thriving and Healthy Residents
- Reliable and Accessible Infrastructure
- Strong and Prosperous Businesses
- Innovative and Efficient Government
By using innovative, collaborative, and holistic approaches to these challenges, his team achieved the following accomplishments across the seven pillars.
Ready and Successful Students
For the second budget year in a row, County Executive Ball allocated another record high of funding to the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS), the Howard Community College (HCC), and the Howard County Public Library System while continuing to expand the Department of Community Resources and Services HoCo STRIVES program that provides wraparound support services and assists in bridging the achievement gap. Our capital budget also funded and allowed three priority projects to move forward – Hammond High School addition and renovations, Talbot Springs Elementary renovations, and High School #13.
As the pandemic impacted HCPSS students, parents, teachers, and administrators who had to adapt immediately to a virtual learning environment, County Executive Ball committed nearly $6 million of funding from the CARES Act to ensure Howard County’s reputation for education excellence maintains intact. Funding details included:
- $2.8 million for technology to support both teachers and students;
- $2.5 million for public health and safety items for students, staff and facilities;
- $400,000 to provide meals for students; and
- $200,000 to cover increased unemployment costs.
County Executive Ball also requested a performance audit of HCPSS, conducted independently by the Maryland State Department of Education to provide a full picture of expenditures and help inform the best financial path forward. The audit affirmed several actions and improvements made by the County and HCPSS over the past several years. Those actions and improvements include the recent development of a multi-year plan to pay down the Health and Dental Fund deficit, improvements to procurement practices and the use of best practices for budgeting of salaries and wages by HCPSS.
In 2021, in anticipation of HCPSS and HCC returning to in-person learning and the re-opening of the libraries, County Executive Ball remains committed to providing support and resources toward these valuable education resources. As revenues from both the County and State will be impacted due to impacts of the pandemic, funding toward education will remain Howard County’s top fiscal priority.
Safe and Engaged Communities
As the nation turned its attention to equitable and engaged community policing this year in wake of civil unrest over generations of police mistreatment of minority communities, County Executive Ball along with the Howard County Police Department (HCPD) proactively engaged these sensitive issues.
In his first year, Ball appointed the first two women to lead the HCPD and Department of Fire and Rescue Services (DFRS), a historic move that encouraged other jurisdictions to follow suit. He also committed to investing in and hiring more fire and medical personnel in DFRS to improve staffing capacity and address safety issues.
County Executive Ball also furthered his commitment toward restorative practices by changing the name of the Office of Human Rights to the Office of Human Rights and Equity as well as creating the County’s first Equity Manager position within that office. The manager is charged with identifying any practices or policies needed to ensure equity, recommending and implementing training and competency-building, and developing strategic community partnerships through restorative practices.
Additionally, County Executive Ball revised Howard County Department of Correction policies and guidelines by restricting the intake of inmates from the United States Immigration Customs and Enforcement Agency (ICE) to those only charged with violent and serious crimes.
Additional Public Safety Accomplishments:
- Provided COVID-19 hazard pay for the County’s valued frontline colleagues in serving in public safety and those serving our residents.
- Columbia named “Safest City in America”for third year in a row.
- In January, HCPD launched a one-year Drone Field Test. The field test has documented 41 operational deployments, with a majority focusing on missing persons. The field test has also demonstrated the effective use of drone technology to live-feed video to the Command Post during two barricade situations.
- In March, HCPD implemented a new beat configuration with goal of maintaining a reasonable balance of work between the two patrol districts to provide more geographical efficient and quicker response times to residents.
- Howard County Fire and Rescue Services increased staffing at all stations to a minimum of 6 personnel at every fire station as well as opened new Merriweather Station and began EMS transport billing with no out of pocket costs to Howard County residents and opportunity for assistance for those on fixed incomes.
- Howard County became one of the first jurisdictions in Maryland to implement “Text to 9-1-1″ system that assists those with who are deaf, hard-of-hearing, or have a speech disability; as well as for someone who is in a situation where it is unsafe to place a voice call to 911; and for an individual who is experiencing a medical emergency and may be unable to speak.
Ellicott City Progress:
As the businesses and residents of Ellicott City faced their third disaster this year over the last four years due to the pandemic, County Executive Ball and the Howard County Department of Public Works along with the Office of Emergency Management and Economic Development Authority continued progress and provided additional financial support toward flood mitigation and economic recovery of the town.
The Office of County Executive also assisted in the facilitation of positive national media engagements and assistance toward the town offered by celebrity Chef Gordan Ramsay 24 Hours to Hell and Back two hour special on Fox and mentorship and assistance from the entrepreneurs from Shark Tank through ABC’s Good Morning America.
Ellicott City Flood Mitigation Efforts and Recovery Supports Over Last Two Years Include:
- Advanced several flood mitigation projectsthrough the design and permitting processes with construction anticipated to begin 2021.
- Developed and launched the Safe and Sound plan and website.
- Acquired all 10 buildings needed at the bottom of Main Street for renovation and demolition.
- Removed more than 28 tons of debris from the streams.
- Installed and had 2 successful utilizations of the outdoor tone alert system during severe weather.
- Installed 2 private access point gates to provide quick egress from Main Street during severe weather.
- Worked with our state partners to secure more than $8 million in funding for the Safe and Sound plan.
- Passed more stringent stormwater management standards.
- Provided more than $150k in grants to business and property owners for flood resilience projects.
- Ellicott City Master Plan passed by the Howard County Council.
Clean and Sustainable Environment
Within the first two months of the Ball Administration’s tenure, County Executive Ball committed Howard County to the “We Are Still In” declaration and made Howard County the first county in the nation to formally accept the United States Climate Alliance’s Natural and Working Lands Challenge, which calls on jurisdictions to reduce emissions and increase carbon sequestration.
In 2020, County Executive Ball created and proposed the strongest forest conservation law in the State of Maryland to mitigate the loss of natural lands. Now, 75% of trees replaced must be within a development project site and incentives are provided to encourage tree planting in the watershed and other areas that need it the most. Additionally, the Ball Administration has planted more than 50,000 trees since taking office, including giving away more than 4,000 trees for residents to plant on their property. Earlier this year, the Administration received a $1 million dollar grant for tree planting from the National Fish and Wildlife Federation.
The Ball administration has also prioritized protecting green and open space. Just this week, and nearly seven years after being targeted for development, the county took ownership of the Savage Remainder property and will now preserve the land as open space. This nearly 5-acre parcel of land has been designated by the State of Maryland as a targeted ecological area. The Ball Administration also modernized the Agriculture Preservation Program and made its first approval in this program cycle to the Sharp Farm.
Substantial sustainable progress was achieved by utilizing cleaner renewable energy sources for the Howard County government such as the county’s first and innovative solar power purchasing agreement that would cover approximately 30 percent of the total annual electricity use for County government operations, at no capital cost to the County and providing a total anticipated cost benefit of $1.2 million over the 25 year life of the contract. Howard County’s fleet operations increased the total number of hybrid vehicles in the County’s fleet by 58 units, including the purchase of 52 hybrid police vehicles, which advances the County’s goal of reducing fuel consumption by 20% by 2025. And Howard County opened a new electric vehicle recharging station at the Miller Library.
Additional Environmental and Sustainable Accomplishments:
- First expansion of the Long Reach Village garden in over a decade.
- Howard County Office of Community Sustainability (OCS) was awarded two grants, totaling $109k, from the Maryland Energy Administration (MEA). OCS received a $9k grant to plan a Combined Heat & Power (CHP) system at the Howard County. Detention Center and up to $100k to plan a microgrid project at the George Howard Complex and the Roger Carter Center.
- Four Office of Community Sustainability employees received Climate Change Professional certifications.
- Howard County’s own HoCoGrow Compost received U.S. Composting Council “Seal of Testing Assurance” certification.
In 2021, the Ball administration will continue to expand and evolve the County’s efforts to implement policies and practices that will continue to address factors contributing to climate change while decreasing pollution and improving the quality of our air and water.
Thriving and Healthy Residents
As the nation and world directed its attention on the devastating health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, Howard County continued to address health issues and inequities that existed before and will persist after the pandemic. Unfortunately, many health issues, specifically mental health issues, were exacerbated by the pandemic such as suicide, substance misuse, and domestic violence. The Ball Administration consistently pivoted and included addressing these concerns as part of its holistic response to COVID-19.
In his first year in office, County Executive Ball initiated an integrated health and human services delivery system to support our vulnerable populations. He focused on providing facilities and services for our aging residents, improve healthcare opportunities, advance affordable housing, treat substance misuse and mental health issues. These successes continued in 2020, with the opening of the Crisis Stabilization Center at Grassroots that occurred at the beginning of the year and was an asset in assisting County residents during the pandemic as increased stress and isolation lead to substance misuse and relapses.
In his first year, County Executive Ball’s championed mental health in Howard County, especially among young residents. He launched the “It’s OK to Ask” campaign, as suicide was the leading cause of death for youth ages 15-19 in Howard County between 2014-2016. The work to address mental health challenges continued in 2020 with a coordinated campaign with the Health Department, “Let’s Talk About Mental Health” intended to promote mental and behavioral health resources and referral services available in the County. These resources and outreach were especially vital during COVID-19, with 40% of U.S. adults reported struggling with mental health or substance use, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Ball Administration also continued critical work that began in 2019 on behalf of the county’s growing aging community. In December 2019, Howard County announced its intention to become certified as an AARP “Age Friendly Community.” Despite adjustments in the certification process due to the pandemic, the Howard County Department of Community Services and Resources was able to keep this process on track virtually with the release of the Age Friendly survey that obtained valuable feedback on the needs that our aging residents desire and deserve.
The Administration also continued its work through advocacy of the General Assembly for the Prescription Drug Affordability Board that is pivotal to addressing increased costs of prescription drugs. Under the new and innovative “WE CARE” initiative, we can provide classes and programming for residents who have frequently used the emergency department for healthcare services
In 2020, the health and welfare of the County’s children, youth, and young adults have become more of priority and concern due to many indirect impacts of the pandemic such as the rise of suicide and the underreporting of child abuse cases – both issues that the County Executive routinely brings to the forefront as one of the state’s most outspoken leaders for the need of mental health support. By continuing supporting HoCo STRIVES as well as creating Howard County’s RecZone program run by the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks, the County Executive provided much needed critical services for children and their families throughout this challenging year.
Finally, the County Executive was also aggressive at utilizing the County’s legal options to demand accountability from companies and organizations in order to improve the health and welfare of the residents. Lawsuits regarding opioids, e-cigarettes, and airplane noise progressed to varying outcomes, but the County will continue to utilize all legal resources available to the government to stop those who harm the health of our residents.
Additional Health and Welfare Accomplishments:
- Awarded $2.5 million Housing and Urban Development grant for Patuxent Commons, a unique affordable housing development for people with disabilities.
- Released The Path Home– a five-year strategic plan to ensure that homelessness in Howard County is rare, brief and nonrecurring.
- Re-opened new and expanded location for the County’s Loan Closet – a medical supply lending facility that has helped approximately 12,000 residents seeking assistive devices, saving families nearly $5 million.
In 2021, the health and welfare of Howard County residents will continue to be impacted both directly and indirectly by the COVID-19 pandemic even after the vaccination. A generation of children have had their education and social development stalled while aging residents have been more isolated, alone, while losing friends and family members to this disease. The mental and physical health aftermath of the pandemic will need consistent attention and investment that the Ball Administration is committed to prioritize and find innovative solutions.
Reliable and Accessible Infrastructure
County Executive Ball recognizes that reliable public transportation and safety for our pedestrians, cyclists and drivers continues to be a concern for many of our residents. Especially in the year when many residents shifted to working from home and spending more time within their communities, the impact on transportation has been profound.
Over the first two years of his Administration, County Executive Ball has prioritized developing and implementing Complete Streets, in conjunction with the recently passed WalkHoward and BikeHoward plan. There are currently 32 active bike and pedestrian infrastructure projects, 21 of which are scheduled for completion by 2022.
Additional infrastructure projects to improve safety, including adding sidewalks and pedestrian refuge, were completed by the Department of Public Works around Howard County, including:
- Guilford Road intersection improvements at Volmerhausen Road/Mary Lane.
- Mini-roundabout construction on Columbia Road at Hemlock Cone Way/Kingscup Court.
- Mini-roundabout construction on Steven’s Forest Road, at Farewell Road/Night Street Court.
- Reconstructed traffic signals at seven intersections throughout Howard County.
- New crosswalk with pedestrian refuge on Old Annapolis at Waterford Drive.
Additionally, the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) received record capital investments to improve its vehicle fleet, including the order of 11 new buses, implement real-time bus arrival information, a trip planner, and service alerts. Upcoming improvements include mobile ticketing, and automated bus stop annunciators, improving access for riders with visual and/or hearing impairments.
This year, Howard County announced the first e-scooter permitting process, that will allow scooter services to operate beginning in March 2021 throughout Columbia and the Columbia Gateway business district.
In 2021, Howard County will further infrastructure progress with continued planning of the Dobbin Road corridor and Robert Fulton Drive along with the installation of a traffic signal and signalized crosswalks at Guilford and Oakland Mills road. Additionally, Howard County transportation officials will continue working with neighboring jurisdictions Montgomery and Baltimore County to increase regional transportation options for County residents commuting toward both Washington, DC and Baltimore.
Strong and Prosperous Businesses
In a year marked by the devasting economic impacts of COVID-19, County Executive Ball and the Howard County Economic Development Authority fervently supported Howard County businesses through grant funding, low-interest loans, and expedited permitting to adjust to COVID-19 guidelines. Through the CARES Act funding, the Ball Administration allocated a total of $11 million towards restaurants, retail, farms, childcare, hotels, and live venues in Howard County. The County Executive also filed emergency legislation requesting an additional $2 million in County funds for Howard County businesses.
The global pandemic saw many businesses quickly shift production to support the supply of personal protective equipment and research on the novel coronavirus. Private and public partnerships, including Howard County’s partnership with John Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, allowed our most innovative organizations to be at the forefront of research on how COVID-19 spreads through the air indoors and to study the seroprevalence of the virus throughout the county.
The Ball Administration also coordinated the very first Local Business Certification Workshop, in partnership with the Office of Procurement and Contract Administration. This free event provided local business owners with assistance in the Howard County Procurement Process. Since 2018, County Executive Ball has doubled the number of firms registered and certified in the Local Business Initiative program, growing from 100 to 200 firms. Ball’s commitment to engaging local businesses in the procurement process was highlighted in two outreach events targeted towards construction and information technology businesses. In 2020, nearly $16.5 million in County funds were spent on projects with certified local business enterprises. This is an increase of $5.8 million or 56% over Fiscal Year 2019.
County Executive Ball has continued efforts to revitalize and reinvigorate the Long Reach Village Center. This year more than 45,000 square feet of office and retail space has been leased, including 25,000 sq ft of the space that previously housed Safeway. New additions to the village center include the African-American Museum of Art, artist’s studio space through the Howard County Arts Council, Head Start, Howard International Grocer, Roving Radish, Roll Up ‘N Dye, and Vegan Soul Bakery. Finally, County Executive held the inaugural State of the Business address in February 2020, in front of the Chamber of Commerce and the Howard County Economic Development Authority.
Additional efforts to expand Strong and Prosperous Businesses include:
- Maple Lawn becomes home to a new consolidated headquarters of KBR consisting of 350 high paying tech jobs with an additional 48 new jobs.
- Savage based prepared meals company, Freshly, has quickly grown, to a staff of 821 employees since opening in the fall of 2019 with 500 employees.
- TJ Maxx agrees to lease 205,306-square-foot distribution facility in Jessup
- Cavalier Logistics expanded to a second location in Howard County with 87,000 sf and 12 employees for additional cold room storage capacity.
- Cleary Packaging and their 25 employees relocated into 33,000 Sq. Ft. of space in Savage where they plan to continue to grow the business.
- Job search engine site Indeed names Central Maryland “10thBest Place in U.S. for Tech Jobs.”
- Partnership with the Howard County Chamber of Commerce to launch first Local Business Workshop to allow for more County project funds and grants to go to community businesses.
- Hosted first Small Business Summit to support small, minority, women, and veteran owned businesses.
- Recognized Business Appreciation Week with visits to more than 300 local businesses in the first two years.
- Hosted quarterly roundtables and monthly business visits to continue engaging with the business community.
Innovative and Efficient Government
This year County Executive Ball has rapidly accelerated many policies and processes to ensure Howard County Government could continue providing vital services to residents, while shifting more than one third of government employees to remote work. Recognizing the critical role of online services and information, the Ball Administration prioritized a new government website to be launched in the first quarter of 2021.
Additionally, County Executive Ball hosted the first Innovation Week in Howard County, awarding grants totaling $225,000 to eight organization. The Office of the County Executive with the Department of Planning and Zoning also successfully launched the General Plan update, HoCo By Design, to create a 20-year vision for development and planning in Howard County.
County Executive Ball and the Department of Community Resources and Services also completed a successful Census count, surpassing the goal for self-response in the 2020 Census – with 80.8% of residents self-reporting. Howard County was second highest in the state in total response rate and 31st in the nation.
As one of the nation’s first jurisdictions to be evaluated during the pandemic, Howard County protected its AAA bond rating from all three rating agencies for the 23rd year in a row, saving taxpayers more than $5.5 million in interest payments due to strong management and sound fiscal policies.
Other Innovative and Efficient Government efforts include:
- Renamed the Office to Purchasing to the Office of Procurement and ContractAdministration, more accurately reflecting the procurement leadership set forth by the office
- Formed the La Alianza Latina Workgroupto address many of the concerns and struggles of the Latino and immigrant community
- Established the observation of Indigenous People’s Day in place of Columbus Day
- Negotiated eight collective bargaining agreements, including six multiyear agreements
- Implemented an online time and attendance system to ensure consistency and accuracy with the County’s many bargaining agreements and pay plans
- Implemented new online learning management system to provide online and on demand trainings for County employees
- Launched a virtual assistance portalfor residents to easily access disaster and emergency resources, such as rent relief, food distribution, and other essential services
In 2019, Howard County received seven Achievement Awards from the National Association of Counties (NACo) for:
- The Guilford Transition House to provide shelter for up to 24 months to returning citizens leaving the County’s detention center.
- The Bridge Columbia Survey and Outreach program to mitigate the Columbia pedestrian bridge closure impact on residents.
- The CAREAPP Project to connect residents with needed resources that impact a person’s well-being
- School-Based Telemedicine Program, providing school children prompt access to health care in a cost-effective manner and reducing absenteeism and missed class time.
- The UtilliCX Mobile Billing Application, allowing customers to view and manage their water and sewer account online.
- The Roving Radish, a program the sells affordable, healthy, and easy to make meal kits comprised of local produce and proteins, with a special focus on low-income families.
- PlanHoward Academy, a planning course designed by the Department of Planning and Zoning to give citizens a better understanding of how local government work, and current planning efforts.
Howard County was also recognized nationally by NACo with four Achievement Awards for 2020, for the following programs:
- Historic preservation and tax credit pre-approval program for the Howard County Historic Preservation Commission following the 2016 Ellicott City flood.
- Weekend Warrior snack pack program created to provide healthy nutritional food for food insecure children on the weekends during summer months.
- Turf to Trees giveaway program that increases the overall tree canopy by working with residents to plant trees on private property.
- Howard County Mental Health program provides direct outreach to persons in crisis and ensure follow-up services are offered to those who undergo an emergency petition.
In October, County Executive Ball addressed this progress in his State of the County address.
“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.
In 2021, the Ball Administration will continue to lead with innovative ideas and efficient governance as the budget realities and health, social, and economic impacts of COVID-19 reverberate throughout the country.