Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman (R) delivered his first State of the County address on Feb. 5 at Turf Valley Resort, promising a bipartisan, cooperative effort to achieve long-term sustainability and economic growth.
“Citizens elected us to find solutions to problems and issues that affect their everyday lives,” Kittleman said. “They expect us to work together and work for them.”
The new county executive placed emphasis on an expanded Office of Sustainability. While earlier efforts at sustainability concentrated on the environment, the Kittleman administration will include the economy, agriculture and infrastructure, as well.
Kittleman also announced a proposal to commit $2.5 million to flood mitigation projects in Ellicott City. “We’ve done enough studies and planning,” he said. “It’s time to start the work. Our business owners and residents of Main Street shouldn’t have to panic every time the water starts rising. He also announced an initiative to bring free Wi-Fi to downtown Ellicott City.
Touching on redevelopment progress in Downtown Columbia that includes a Whole Foods store and a reconfigured Mall in Columbia, Kittleman also cited the Route 1 Corridor and the future of village centers in Long Reach and Oakland Mills as priorities.
Using public-private partnerships to reduce the impact on taxpayers, “We will craft redevelopment plans that put greater emphasis on what the community wants,” he said.
Addressing economic development, Kittleman announced that the Maryland Food Authority has agreed to take over 78,000 square feet of space in Jessup, bringing 120 new jobs to the county, through a $2 million capital investment.
He emphasized that the county currently has more than $600,000 of catalyst loans in the pipeline for small and minority-owned businesses, with the first of these having already been made to Manor Hill Farm in Ellicott City for developing the county’s first farm brewery.
Kittleman added that he has tasked Chief Administration Officer Lonnie Robbins to take the necessary steps so that the county can begin investing locally.
“Taxpayer funds spent on critical services should be invested right here,” he said. “We can help [local] businesses thrive … by increasing the percentage of county services that are contracted to locally-owned, small and minority businesses.”
Revitalization along the Route 1 Corridor is making progress, he said, pointing to Jailbreak Brewing Co. as an example of the type of forward-thinking entrepreneurship he hopes will drive the county’s innovation economy.
Kittleman said he also plans to work with Councilwoman Jen Terrasa (D-Dist. 3) to develop a strategy for properties owned by the county along Route 1 in Savage and North Laurel.
“Last month I met with Congressman Dutch Ruppersberger, and we’ll be working together to make Route 1 the Cyber Hub of Maryland, capitalizing on the presence of the U.S. CyberCommand and attracting businesses that will bring more jobs to the county,” he said.
After taking office, Kittleman said he was advised of a $15.8 million shortfall in the current fiscal year’s budget.
“Although it has been a difficult process, we will soon announce our plan to ensure that we have a balanced budget this year,” he said.
Kittleman pledged his commitment to continuing the county’s efforts to improve education and to closing the achievement gap. As part of that effort, Kittleman said he will work with Council Chair Mary Kay Sigaty (D-Dist. 4) to create the Early Childhood Education Taskforce, which Sigaty will also chair.
“Through this effort we will develop strategies and initiatives to improve early childhood education, particularly among children from low-income and vulnerable homes,” he explained.
Kittleman announced his support for the county’s first Early College Access Program at the Applications and Research Laboratory in Ellicott City. “This countywide program puts students on the path to an associates degree and several professional certifications within a year of graduating and also connects them to high-paying jobs in network security,” he said, adding that the model will expand to Oakland Mills High School with a similar program net year.
Among Kittleman’s first actions in office were the appointments of Police Chief Gary Gardner and Fire & Rescue Services Chief John Butler. “Chief Gardner has ambitious plans to expand community outreach initiatives, and we look forward to his leadership,” he said.
Kittleman also spoke in favor of plans by the Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center to establish a new Day Resource Center and residential program targeting homelessness in southern Howard County.
“Construction has begun on a new, $77 million, 145,000-square-foot Science, Engineering & Technology building at Howard Community College (HCC),” he said.
Work is also underway to implement OpenHoward, which will make county spending data available online, as well as HoCoStat, a performance measurement system that will assist with county government accountability.
Kittleman announced a new county partnership with the public school system and The Arc of Howard County to establish Project SEARCH, a program that connects young adults with developmental disabilities to career opportunities in the public and private sector.
“In county government we have 12 Project SEARCH interns this year, working alongside our employees,” Kittleman said. “They are gaining invaluable work experience through this process … today I ask that [local employers] consider bringing a Project SEARCH intern into your workplace as well.”
Expanding the Vision
Kittleman praised former County Executive Ken Ulman (D)’s efforts to make Howard County a model green community, and announced his intent to expand that vision to a model sustainable community.
Legislation currently under consideration before the county council will change the name of the Office of Environmental Sustainability to the Office of Community Sustainability, expanding its scope and mission.
“We are working with a University of Maryland Program — the Partnership for Action in Learning and Sustainability — to collaborate with HCC and existing staff within the office to work on sustainability issues,” he said. “There are resources right here in our community that we can use to benefit our county.”
Among these resources are ideas for making agricultural businesses more sustainable, as well as working more efficiently and productively in providing a food supply for county residents.
Kittleman started the conversation during a January roundtable with farmers in western Howard County.
“We will continue to reach out to other industries for similar conversations,” he said. “As long as we have residents and businesses … who are willing to keep on investing right here, I know we will continue receiving honors and being singled out as one of the best places to live.”