Howard County Executive Calvin Ball and Howard Community College President Daria Willis share a moment as an audience is assembled for Ball’s State of the County speech Oct. 24 at the Horowitz Visual and Performing Arts Center at the college. (Howard County Government photo)

The state of Howard County remains strong, despite recent economic challenges, Howard County Executive Calvin Ball believes.

In his fifth State of the County address, Ball said bolder and brighter days are ahead.

Highlights from the address included a progress update on the Ellicott City Safe and Sound plan. Ball announced the completion of the H7 and Quaker Mill flood mitigation ponds, which hold more than 5.5 million gallons of water during storms, and plans to break ground on the H4 flood mitigation pond to add an additional 7.5 million gallons of capacity.

He also announced that building removal work on four Lower Main Street structures would begin in January and continue into the spring. The County will preserve and renovate six other county-owned buildings on Lower Main.

Increased commitments

Budget spending in fiscal 2024 will target improvements in health care facilities, workforce initiatives and recreation opportunities in the county.

Ball announced a $15 million commitment to support renovating the first floor of the Johns Hopkins Howard County Medical Center’s pavilion building into a 29-bed observation unit aimed at reducing wait times and length of stay for all patients. The county will also provide an additional $1 million toward the Medical Center’s expanded Behavioral Health Unit, doubling its commitment to the project.

Howard Community College’s Workforce Development and Skilled Trades Center will also see the county’s commitment raised from $1 million to a total of $10 million.

Department of Recreation and Parks spending will include $20 million for construction of a pool at the North Laurel Community Center and $5 million for an indoor track facility at Troy Park.

Additionally, a partnership between Howard County Government, HCC and the Boys and Girls Club of Metropolitan Baltimore will help establish a new Boys and Girls Club to provide after-school programming and mentorship, the first model of its kind in the state.

Rethinking, repurposing

During the address, Ball announced the establishment of a commission to redesign the Howard County flag, whose current design was adopted 55 years ago. The commission will oversee the guidelines, public submission, and review process that will result in selecting a new design to encompass Howard County’s past, present and future. Coleen West, Executive Director of the Howard County Center for the Arts, will serve as commission chair.

Ball also acknowledged plans to repurpose the Historic Courthouse in Ellicott City as a Center for Arts, Culture and History based on input from more than 600 community stakeholders. The courthouse will provide space for the Howard County Center for the Arts, the county’s first Asian American and Pacific Islander Cultural Center, the Roving Radish, and shared commercial kitchen space.

Current Center for the Arts space is slated to become a new space for Howard County Black Greek Letter Nonprofits, giving historically Black fraternities and sororities a dedicated space to meet and offer programs for the community.

Quality of life

Ball said the county will also see improvements targeting public safety, education and other considerations affecting quality of life in the county, including cooperation between the Howard County Police Department and Department of Technology and Communication Services to build a database and website dedicated to solving 27 cold cases in the County.

“This initiative will not only help bring families closure, but it will also underscore the importance of using modern technology to bring closure and justice to families,” Ball said.

WiFi expansion is planned for the Howard County Fairgrounds, and the county will also expand its digital network to Columbia Association facilities, including six village centers and all 23 pools.

According to Ball, Howard County is ahead of schedule in implementing the state-mandated Blueprint for Maryland’s Future due to progress in opening a new pre-K center at the Faulkner Ridge Center, recent opening of Guilford Park High School, the County’s first new high school to open since 2005, and record investment in the school system’s capital and operating budget requests.

“Our Elkridge community cannot wait any longer for a high school,” he said. “We will be moving High School 14 away from Troy Park and will begin to evaluate other sites in Elkridge.”

The county will commit $15 million for the site acquisition of High School 14.

In terms of energy efficiency, solar panels now produce 47% of the electricity needed for government operations. More projects are under design and permitting, and Ball said he anticipates raising that capacity to 55% within the next two years.

Transportation remains one of the biggest challenges for the county, and Ball said he was preparing to pre-file a five-year Transit Development Plan.

“This year we received a record 52 National Association of Counties awards, including a best in category for transportation,” Ball said. “We received double the amount of awards than any other county in the state of Maryland. We have faced hardship and uncertainty, but … I truly believe that our best days are ahead.”