Arundel Council Approves Largest Fee Cut in County History
The Anne Arundel County Council has approved County Executive Steve Schuh’s plan to reduce Capital Facility Connection Charges (CFCCs) by 30%.
CFCCs are charged to new homes and businesses when they connect to public water and sewer to recover the cost of constructing water and sewer infrastructure such as pipes, water treatment plants and pumping stations. The reform legislation also eliminates deferral and restocking fees, reduces interest rates and allows testing for adequate public facilities at different stages of the development process.
“Lowering fees to help create jobs and expand our economy is my top priority,” said Schuh. “I want to thank Council Chairman Derek Fink for his leadership in leading the charge on the largest fee cut in county history. This fee cut will put $125 million back into the economy over the next three years.”
These fees have increased to the point where they are often cited as a major impediment to new business formation and job creation. The charge is passed on to business owners and new home buyers, increasing the cost of doing business and pushing the housing prices out of the reach of many purchasers. At current levels, these fees add nearly $20,000 to the cost of an average new home and substantially more to the cost of a medium-sized new business.
The legislation passed the county council with a 6-1 vote.
Sharks Bite for Howard County Produce Business
Hungry Harvest, a Howard County-based produce company dedicated to ending food waste and hunger, has become the latest company to receive an investment on ABC-TV’s hit show, “Shark Tank.”
“[Six] billion [pounds] of produce go to waste each year. It is very tough for farmers to grow the exact amount of produce that they are contracted to grow,” said Evan Lutz, CEO and co-founder of Hungry Harvest. “We purchase surplus produce from local farms and wholesalers that would normally get thrown away, not because it is bad or rotten, but because it is ugly.”
Hungry Harvest, a resident company of the Howard County Economic Development Authority’s Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship, takes the “ugly” produce, repackages it into variety bags and delivers it to your doorstep. The packages range in cost from $15 to $35, including delivery; for each bag purchased, the company donates 1.6 pounds of produce to help feed hungry families.
It was an idea that resonated with the sharks on the show and ultimately resulted in an offer from investor Robert Herjavec. Lutz went on the show asking for $50,000 in exchange for 5% equity in the company, but Herjavec upped the ante by offering him $100,000 in exchange for 10%. “Instead of just writing another check, I have been looking for a way to give people an opportunity that empowers them,” said Herjavec on the show. “This is something that I want to do.”
AACC Board of Trustees Approves Facilities Master Plan
On Tuesday, Jan. 12, the Anne Arundel Community College (AACC) Board of Trustees voted unanimously to approve the college’s Facilities Master Plan, which is required by the state every five years. The new plan provides recommendations that total $100 million less than the proposed costs in the previous plan, which was completed in 2011.
The plan includes data projections 10 years out and provides facilities recommendations in phases of short-term, mid-term and long-term. An outside consultant, Stantec, was hired to facilitate the process, which included comprehensive research on the county’s job market, demographic data and educational trends as well as qualitative data including focus groups with business and community leaders, students and faculty. The process was guided by a steering committee that included AACC Board Chair Art Ebersberger, administrators, faculty and staff.
The plan calls for the creation of a new health sciences building; an expanded physical sciences building; expanded lab spaces and learning spaces, both formal and informal; additional parking; and renovations and improvements to a number of buildings and the college’s grounds. The plan also includes the removal of underutilized spaces, such as the college’s aquatic facility and Schwartz building.
The board of trustees received a full presentation and proposal last month at its December meeting before voting in January. The board received fewer than 10 comments from the community related to the plan, mainly in opposition to the removal of the pool. In February, the college will submit the plan to the Maryland Higher Education Commission.
Kittleman Encourages Public Input to Spending Affordability Advisory Committee
Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman solicited public input and pledged openness and transparency as the Spending Affordability Advisory Committee (SAAC) prepares recommendations regarding revenues and expenditures for county government during the next five years.
Created by executive order in December 2015, Kittleman named 23 members to the committee. Each member of the Howard County Council was invited to nominate one committee member as well. The chair will be Steve Sachs, a business executive who previously chaired the SAAC in 2015. Also serving as advisers to the committee are seven current leaders of Howard County government.
“Howard County is faced with long-term environmental, transportation, educational, safety and employee benefit obligations,” said Kittleman. “This committee’s work is vital to ensuring that we build on our excellent quality of life while living within our means. The county cannot overburden itself with debt, nor can it jeopardize its AAA bond rating. The level of county spending should be consistent with the economic growth of the county.”
The SAAC has been meeting since Jan. 7. Three remaining meetings are scheduled:
- Thursday, Feb. 4
- Thursday, Feb. 11
- Thursday, Feb. 18
- Thursday, Feb. 25 (back-up date in the event of inclement weather)
All meetings are open to the public and are held in the Columbia/Ellicott Room at the George Howard Building, 3430 Courthouse Drive in Ellicott City, starting at 7:30 a.m. Videos from the meetings will be available at www.howardcountymd.gov/spendingaffordability.htm.
Serenity Acres Treatment Center Expands in Crownsville
Serenity Acres Treatment Center, which provides inpatient drug and alcohol rehabilitation services, is expanding its Crownsville location to more than double its treatment capacity. The rehab facility will grow from 12 to 25 acres of property and will be equipped to provide individualized treatment to up to 84 clients at a time.
The expansion will bring the total living space close to 40,000 square feet, which will support Serenity Acres’ dual-diagnosis treatment program addressing addictions and their underlying causes. Founded in 2011, Serenity Acres consisted of 17,000 square feet of space for 39 clients prior to the expansion.
“One of Serenity Acres’ driving tenets is to provide treatment in a comfortable, homelike atmosphere,” said Larry Adler, founder and CEO of Serenity Acres. “Providing a high level of care for such a large number of people without the ‘hospital feel’ is unheard of in the local addiction treatment industry.”
“The growing heroin epidemic in Maryland has created a critical deficit in the availability of quality addiction care providers,” Adler said. “The additional space will allow us to meet the increasing need for treatment in Maryland. We want to help as many people as possible with our blend of traditional and holistic therapies that treat the body, mind and spirit. We put a great deal of thought, time and effort into this facility to help ensure successful outcomes for our clients.”
Schuh Signs Executive Order Reforming Land Use Departments
Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh has signed an executive order to reform land use in Anne Arundel County. Executive Order Number 82 begins a major land use department reorganization, moving engineers to the Department of Inspections and Permits and transferring zoning enforcement personnel to the Office of Planning and Zoning.
The order also empowers land use department team leaders to make critical decisions to move projects forward and reduce permit and zoning approval times.
“For far too long, our county’s land use departments have been a source of frustration for our citizens,” said Schuh. “The actions we are taking … will improve a permitting and zoning approval process that is often bogged down by red tape, inefficiencies and too many layers of bureaucracy.”
The county executive also announced a land use legislative reform package, including measures to allow citizens to hire outside, third-party engineers certified by the county to independently review projects and cut down on project review times; to reduce the number of internal reviews by Planning and Zoning of a project from three to two; and to reorganize the major subdivision process by moving the public works agreement phase to after the recordation of the record plat.
The announcement took place at a gathering of Schuh’s transition team at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, in Annapolis. More than 150 members of the team then took part in a department-by-department update on the administration’s progress on the more than 700 individual transition recommendations.
VAAAC Receives Second Highest Maryland Matching Grant Award
The Maryland Tourism Development Board (MTDB) has awarded $271,923 in matching grants to Visit Annapolis & Anne Arundel County (VAAAC) for fiscal 2016 that ends June 30. The allocation is second only to Ocean City, which received $479,008 in matching grant dollars.
VAAAC President and CEO Connie Del Signore says the fiscal 2016 grant award is a reflection of the strategic advertising and marketing decisions the organization made in fiscal 2015. “Visit Annapolis & Anne Arundel County performed outstandingly in the three major categories MTDB considered in calculating this year’s grant awards. After investing more advertising dollars, year over year, in the right media outlets in the right markets, we saw a significant increase in the number of overnights visitors spent in our destination.”
VAAAC spent $930,873 on advertising and marketing in fiscal 2015, a 19.36% increase over the $639,050 it spent in fiscal 2014. The increase in advertising expenditures was, again, second only to Ocean City, which showed a 29.92% increase in advertising expenditures over fiscal 2014. Combined with a recovering economy and the efforts of its full- and limited-service hotels, VAAAC’s advertising efforts helped yield an 11.67% increase in hotel sales taxes, from $14,372,411 in fiscal 2014 to $15,151,292 in fiscal 2015.
The formula MTDB used to determine the allocation of this year’s $2.5 million in matching grants dollars incentivized Maryland’s 23 counties, Baltimore City and Ocean City to focus their marketing efforts on increasing length of stay/overnights in the destinations. To that end, it encouraged Maryland’s destination marketing organizations (DMOs) to sponsor multi-day events and support the Maryland Office of Tourism Development’s major events through cooperative marketing efforts.
Kittleman Expands Transportation Options in Howard County
Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman has announced steps the county will take during the coming months to provide improved transportation options for residents. After the Planning Board evaluates the plan, it will proceed to the Howard County Council for review. The Bicycle Master Plan, also known as BikeHoward, provides a framework for Howard County to become a bicycle-friendly community, where people of all ages and abilities easily can use bicycles for transportation and recreation.
Kittleman also announced a Complete Streets policy to include in the Howard County Design Manual. This policy will guide road design to make it safe and convenient for residents to travel by foot, bicycle, public transportation or automobile. A Complete Streets Implementation Team, consisting of government officials and representatives from Columbia Association (CA) and the Howard County Public School System, will evaluate and update the design manual as its first task during the coming year.
In addition, the county will work with CA and other members of the community to seek a Bicycle-Friendly Community Designation from the League of American Bicyclists for Columbia and Howard County. The county and CA will submit an application for Columbia in February and an application for Howard County in August. Details on the Bicycle Master Plan, including the full document and appendix, can be found at www.BikeHoward.com.
MDOT Supports Dual Stop MARC Option for Laurel
Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) Secretary Pete Rahn has announced state support for maintaining the historic Laurel MARC Station on the Camden Line.
In a letter to Laurel City Council President Ed Ricks and Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman, Rahn said “MDOT supports the ‘Double Stop’ option and is in agreement with the City of Laurel and Howard County that this option best serves the interests of all parties concerned.”
Under this option, the CSX stop on Laurel’s Main Street would stay open, and another stop would be located 2,500 feet away at the Laurel Park Transit Oriented Development site in Howard County. MDOT presented the dual stop option to CSX previously, but CSX does not favor the option due to the potential impact on its freight operations.
Ricks said he and City Councilwoman Donna Crary will meet with Kittleman to plan a future meeting with CSX officials to advocate for the dual stop option. “The state of Maryland has given us the third leg of what we need to make this happen,” Ricks said. “[Laurel Station] has been there 184 years, and we want to make sure it stays there.”
Schuh Proposes Legislation to Forward Fund Crofton High, Cromwell Elementary
Anne Arundel County Executive Steve Schuh has announced legislation to forward fund designs for the new Crofton Area High School and George Cromwell Elementary Revitalization capital projects.
“Accelerating school construction is a major priority of my administration,” said Schuh. “This legislation will help both of these projects become a reality in a shorter period of time.”
“Our school system continues to work collaboratively with the county executive and county council to improve the educational environment for all of our children,” Anne Arundel County Public Schools Superintendent George Arlotto said. “The forward funding of these two projects would allow us to eliminate down time and continue forward movement on two projects that are essential to that goal.”
The legislation would increase the funding in the fiscal 2016 budget for the new Crofton Area High School capital project by $500,000, and George Cromwell Elementary School by $250,000. The increased investment will allow the current contractors, GWWO Inc. and HMC Inc., to continue with their survey and planning work. The forward funding would speed up the timetables for both projects.
The bills were to be introduced at the Anne Arundel County Council meeting on Feb. 1. All proposed funding would be subject to council approval.