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Howard Community Issues Receive Attention

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First responders from across the region gathered at the Howard County Department of Fire & Rescue in November for the county’s second annual regional Safety Symposium.

The one-day event focused on ways to diminish hazards encountered by responders during incidents. The symposium is also designed to encourage a dialogue to further the health and wellness of personnel.

“We, as a county, remain committed to providing educational opportunities like this one to help us better protect our personnel from workplace dangers whenever possible,” said Howard County Executive Allen Kittleman.

“We are constantly searching for resources that will minimize risk during our daily operations,” said Howard County Fire Chief John Butler. “This event is a powerful opportunity, not only for our members, but for the community as a whole.”

At the end of October, the Department of Fire & Rescue Services introduced a new smartphone app designed to help save more county lives from sudden cardiac arrest (SCA).

The PulsePoint app is able to notify members of the community who are trained in CPR, and willing to assist in case of an emergency, if someone nearby has a cardiac emergency and may need CPR.

PulsePoint also uses maps to direct community rescuers to the exact location of the nearest publicly accessible Automated External Defibrillator (AED).

Howard County is the first jurisdiction in the state of Maryland to launch the app.

Bicycling Connections

On Nov. 17, the Howard County Office of Transportation held an open house to gather feedback from North Laurel residents on the county’s North Laurel Connections bicycle and pedestrian project.

The goal of this project is to develop preliminary designs for a series of on- and off-road facilities. They are designed to improve pedestrian and bicycling connections from the trailhead of the Patuxent Branch Trail at Savage Park to the North Laurel Community Center, continuing to the proposed Transit-Oriented Development at the Laurel Race Track MARC Station; it would then connect to the Laurel MARC Station in Prince George’s County.

“We’re asking residents for their input because they live in the area, know the roads and have the best idea of safety issues,” said Chris Eatough, the county’s bicycle and pedestrian coordinator. “They can tell us what works and what won’t work.”

Education Update

The Association of Community Services of Howard County (ACS) last month received an update from Howard County School Superintendent Renee Foose on major school system initiatives and issues, including wellness, standardized testing, the elementary school model, and services and supports targeted to students who face challenges to learning.

“We hear a lot about achievement gaps, but we have a new gap that we’re starting to realize we have to pay much closer attention to, and that’s the economic gap or poverty gap,” Foose said.

She noted that the number of students who qualify for Free and Reduced Meal status increased from 500 in 1986 to a current total of 10,800; during that same time period, the county’s student population doubled.

Earlier this month, the Maryland State Department of Education released results of no-fault PARCC (Partnership Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) testing completed this spring. According to those results, fewer than half of Howard County students met standards for algebra and English on the new state exams.

“We prepared for dismal results … but actually, it’s a little better than I expected,” Foose said, considering that students and teachers may have lowered their guard, knowing that the transition year results wouldn’t count. “Next year, we’re entering the race.”

Food Bank Expansion

Also in November, the Howard County Council approved a Community Action Council (CAC) request for $290,000 in funds made available through cost savings realized during fiscal 2015 to fund three projects, including the organization’s Food Bank expansion. The new funding, when combined with a previously approved Community Development Block Grant match to a $250,000 state bond, would enable relocation from the Food Bank’s outgrown 2,500-square-foot location on Route 108 to a new, 8,000-square-foot facility with space for warehousing, increased community access, nutritional education and other CAC-provided programming.

In addition to the CAC funding, the council also approved $50,000 in funding for a feasibility study that will focus on revitalization options at the Village of Oakland Mills.

Affordable Housing

Meanwhile, the county council continued to hold work sessions focused on affordable housing in November. These discussions were set in motion in October last year, when the council passed a resolution requesting that the Columbia Downtown Housing Corp. (CDHC) consider whether legislative changes would be necessary to ensure that the Downtown Columbia Plan’s vision for a full spectrum of affordable housing would be achieved.

On Nov. 16, the council work session focused on the county’s Schools Study, the Fiscal Impact Analysis and a Parking Analysis.

Downtown developer Howard Hughes Corp. filed a joint recommendation with the CDHC in September recommending a 6% to 10% affordable housing rate be considered for future development, to be augmented with low-income tax credit projects.

In October, Councilwoman Jen Terrasa (D-Dist. 3) submitted alternative legislation that would require a 15% affordable housing rate, targeted to families earning between 40% and 80% of the Howard County median income.

Jackie Eng, ACS president, said her organization is pursuing a policy advocating for the diversity of affordable housing in general. “We would like the council … to evaluate everything and come up with a plan to serve those in the 40% to 60% median income range,” she said. “The trust fund did not work, so we’re recommending a target requiring at least 15% of new housing to be designated [affordable].”

Rain Tax Phaseout Plan

Kittleman and County Councilman Greg Fox (R-Dist. 5) introduced legislation in November aimed at phasing out the county’s Watershed Protection & Restoration Fee over the next two years. Payment of the county’s obligation to state stormwater remediation mandates would transfer to the General Fund, supported through the issuance of General Obligation bonds, and the money that remains in the Watershed Protection and Restoration Fund.

“I don’t want anyone to take this legislation as any less of a commitment of Howard County to making sure that we meet our requirements to do what we can to preserve and protect our Chesapeake Bay,” Kittleman said. “What’s in dispute is how we fund it … and that’s something that was in the [county’s] plans all along, before I took office, to use General Obligation bonds to pay for stormwater remediation efforts.”

According to Fox, the county will also be working with Gov. Larry Hogan’s administration, as well as state lawmakers and state agencies, to look at nutrient trading scenarios and other options that could be used to reduce the overall cost of the county’s financial obligation.

The county’s Watershed Protection & Restoration Fee collects about $10 million per year, Kittleman said, adding that the county will have to come up with about $5.4 million in the first year of phase-out and an additional $5 million, beginning the next year.

“We should get this down to where those additional dollars aren’t even required,” Fox said. “[These are] all things that might be able to substantially reduce cost while actually increasing and having a quicker impact on the Bay.”