Residents and other stakeholders swamped a held-over public hearing for two nights in September to testify on a bill submitted by Howard County Councilmembers Calvin Ball (D-Dist. 2) and Jen Terrasa (D-Dist. 3) seeking repeal of a tax increment finance (TIF) package for downtown Columbia redevelopment.
The up to $90 million deal, meant to advance development, contained $51 million earmarked for a public parking garage that is no longer owned by the county, and now is owned and operated by the Howard Hughes Corp. (HHC).
Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman (R) has recommended that money originally designated for the garage instead be put toward roadway infrastructure in the downtown area.
Proponents of repealing the TIF hold fast to the belief that roads and other related infrastructure improvements should be covered by the developer, not the taxpayer.
With an amount largely based on the cost of the garage, “the public has no reason to believe, and no information to determine, if the TIF size remains appropriate,” said Corporate Office Properties Trust (COPT) spokesperson Amanda Paige.
Barbara Russell, co-president of the Howard County League of Women Voters, said that while the TIF legislation gave the county executive the authority to make adjustments to the plan, “diverting this large a percentage of the total TIF funds and changing the ownership and revenues from the county to the developer is more than an adjustment; it is a different proposal. The issue needs public scrutiny in the interests of good governance.”
Those who oppose repeal said repeal of the legislation could slow down the momentum of development and redevelopment that is currently underway.
“I can’t imagine that the county council would reverse a decision in the midst of a development process that is already underway,” said local commercial real estate executive and Ellicott City resident Cole Schnorf.
Howard County Arts Council Board Member Sharonlee Vogel said repeal “would break an agreement with the master developer, introduce unpredictability in the development process and put the new Cultural Arts Center in jeopardy. There should be no interruption to the progress of the revitalization currently underway.”
According to the original legislation, public improvements covered by the TIF include, but are not limited to, the construction of parking facilities, including the garage; an EMT/Quick Strike Facility meeting the requirements of the Howard County Department of Fire & Rescue Services, within the garage; the construction of road improvements to, from or in the Development District, including construction of a new road running south from Little Patuxent Parkway, and east to Symphony Drive; improvements to Symphony Drive; improvements to Hickory Ridge; intersection improvements; and related stormwater management improvements.
The legislation also allowed TIF funding to be used for installation of utilities, including water and sewage facilities.
Another issue that has stoked the passion of residents is that of changes to the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO).
“When class size continually increases, it is difficult to individualize instruction to meet each child’s needs,” said Colleen Morris, president of the Howard County Education Association.
The continual need for redistricting, class disruptions from the noise of rain on portable classroom roofs and the need to schedule bathroom breaks during lessons because portable classrooms are not located near bathrooms add to the less-than-ideal conditions that teachers and students must deal with.
“All of these issues could be mitigated with better APFO regulations,” Morris said.
Current APFO regulations are not working properly, charged Woodbine resident Jim Walsh. “[The current APFO] was originally enacted in 1992 and certainly has not kept up with changes in state law and subsequent development in Howard County since then,” he said. As more people are drawn to Howard County’s quality of life, “we are going to be a victim of our own success.”
Howard County Board of Education Chair Cynthia Vallaincourt said the board supports changes to APFO and submitted a list of recommendations made by the board.
Opportunity Task Force
In September, County Council Chair Jon Weinstein (D-Dist. 1) submitted legislation to establish an Economic Opportunity and Prosperity Task Force dedicated to exploring ways to create as many pathways to economic prosperity as possible for individuals and businesses in Howard County. The 13-member task force will examine a range of topics, including workforce support, economic development, education, housing and transportation.
If approved, the task force would submit a report to the County Council and county executive in December 2018 that includes recommendations. Weinstein said he hopes the report will serve as a blueprint for legislation, policies and programs at the start of the new term for the council and executive.
Also in September, the council heard testimony on a bill that would establish a personal property tax exemption during the next five years for business property located in an historic district or a National Register District.
“The administration has found that a business that is within an historic district, such as Ellicott City or Savage, faces unique demands or challenges that businesses in modern facilities do not,” said Phil Nichols, a spokesperson for the Department of County Administration. “The exemption will act as an incentive to retain current businesses and attract new businesses to the county historic districts.”
Karen Besson, board president of the Ellicott City Partnership, said the bill would substantially benefit businesses still recovering from the 2016 flood.
Howard County Economic Development Authority Executive Vice President Vernon Thompson asked for the council’s endorsement of a $500,000 Maryland Economic Development Assistance Authority & Fund conditional loan to ELTA North America, an Israeli defense contractor with North American headquarters in Howard County.
“ELTA came out of Maple Lawn and transferred their headquarters to Annapolis Junction,” Thompson said. “They’ve expanded that headquarters and are adding a Cybersecurity Center of Excellence.”
Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) Interim Superintendent Michael Martirano last month unveiled his proposed Capital Budget for fiscal 2018–19, fiscal 2020–24 Capital Improvement Program and fiscal 2019–28 Long-Range Master Plan for the Howard County Public School System.
The proposed $79.7 Capital Budget represents a $14.4 million increase from fiscal 2018. Together, the Capital Budget, $616 million Capital Improvement Program and $1.3 billion Long-Range Master Plan (LRMP) support Martirano’s Strategic Call to Action to build an inclusive, nurturing environment and close opportunity gaps; it also calls for addressing projected student capacity and existing facility needs to support the rapid growth in enrollment that is projected to add nearly 10,000 additional students to the system during the next 10 years.
Major items included in the fiscal 2019 budget proposal include costs associated with locating and constructing a new 13th county high school, now scheduled to open in August 2022, two years earlier than was originally planned.
Other costs cover the final phase of construction of New Elementary School No. 42, scheduled to open in Elkridge in August 2018, and an addition to increase school capacity at Waverly Elementary School. The proposal also includes funding for systemic renovations, which include replacements and upgrade of rooftops and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems at several schools.
The proposed LRMP includes a new middle and high school Career Development Center that would replace the existing Applications and Research Laboratory.
The proposal alleviates overcrowding at the elementary school level in the near term. It also provides capacity for the development of a new Elementary Regional Language Immersion Schools Program through a planned addition to Clarksville Elementary School, as well as construction of the Talbott Springs Elementary School Replacement and New Elementary School No. 43.