In September, Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman announced new initiatives to support the future growth of Howard County’s older adult population. His administration simultaneously released, “Creating an Age-Friendly Community,” a 20-year plan to accommodate a projected 183% increase in the number of adults age 65 or older living in the county by 2040.
Resulting from a year-long effort that engaged more than 1,600 community members from the public, private and nonprofit sectors, as well as the faith community, the report identifies programs, facilities and services that will be needed for the county’s older adults during the next two decades.
“I will convene an Age-Friendly Leadership Council, staffed by the Department of Citizen Services and the Office on Aging … to oversee implementation of these recommendations,” Kittleman said.
Among the county’s initiatives is the expansion of the Loan Closet, a collaborative effort of the Office on Aging, Rotary Club of Columbia and Way Station, which loans durable medical equipment, such as wheelchairs, walkers and shower benches, to 800 citizens each year. Program expansion will enable the initiative to serve up to 2,500 residents and add donations of larger items, such as scooters and stair glides.
The county’s report on aging tasks community leaders in all sectors to consider the changes required to ensure Howard County meets the needs not only of its growing population of older adults, but also of the people who care for them.
It incorporated a review of national practices and past county studies related to aging, an online survey and focus groups to create a vision of a preferred future as an age-friendly community that helps residents maintain a high quality of life throughout their lifespan.
The report identifies six priorities, including advocacy, services and a safety net for vulnerable adults; promotion of the physical, emotional and financial well-being of caregivers, as well as the people they care for; diverse housing options that make aging in place and functioning as independently as possible an option; providing affordable and reliable mobility options to get people where they want and need to go; optimizing opportunities for a healthy quality of life that incorporates physical, behavioral and spiritual well-being; and preparing residents for a new demographic reality.
Additionally, the report identified three focus areas for initial action.
These include development of a lifelong learning curriculum addressing health and wellness, financial and retirement planning and coping skills; developing a sustainable strategy to use electronic, print and social media to provide information that helps adults plan for the future; and promoting a public dialog to encourage and support families in having conversations related to aging.
The report advises that a renewed focus on aging initiatives will necessitate evolution of the role and configuration of county senior centers. It also recognizes that a growing demand for services will require the Office on Aging to pursue revenue-generating business models to support program enhancements and recommends a sliding scale fee-for-service model to ensure that low-income older adults are not denied access.
The full report can be accessed at www.howardcountymd.gov/agingmasterplan.
The Howard County Council returned from a month-long summer legislative break to reconsider several tabled items, including the county executive’s nomination of Columbia Pregnancy Center Executive Director Kimberly Hartman to the Howard County Local Children’s Board and of former Howard County Republican Club President Ivan Betancourt to the county’s Human Rights Commission.
The council rejected Hartman’s nomination, with Councilman Greg Fox (R-Dist. 5) casting the only vote in her favor, but approved Betancourt, with Councilman Calvin Ball (D-Dist. 2) casting the sole vote against his nomination.
Councilwoman Jen Terrasa (D-Dist. 3) said she decided to vote in favor of Betancourt after speaking with him to clarify some of the concerns she had about his nomination.
“I do believe that, as a Hispanic American and with his experiences with the immigration system, he will bring a different perspective that will be helpful [to the commission],” Terrasa said.
In other business, the council moved to extend the life of a council bill amending zoning regulations that would permit home-based contractors as a conditional use in the R-20 Zoning District.
Zoning Change Request
At the council’s September public hearing, neighbors of the Harwood Horse Farm, in Woodbine, overwhelmingly supported a Zoning Regulations Amendment requested by the farm’s owners, Bob and Maxine Walker, to permit indoor events.
“This is an unusual situation,” said Attorney Alexander Adams, who represents the Walkers. “Only outdoor conditional use has been granted, which is seemingly at cross purposes,” he said, as the conditional use was intended to incorporate an historic pole barn structure.
According to Adams, the change would allow the Walkers’ business to accommodate wedding events inside the barn, eliminating their need for temporary tents and portable toilets, which neighbors don’t find appealing.
“It permits the application to occur for buildings 50 years or older to be used for this purpose, but it still has to go through the conditional use process,” Adams said.
Office of Transportation Administrator John Powell also appeared before the council in September to request permission to apply for several Maryland Transportation Administration grants made possible through the Federal Transit Act.
“We’ve got several million dollars coming through in these grants,” Powell said, acknowledging that all of them require matching county funds and are annual recurring operating grants.
“It’s 20% for most of them, but the good news is that Howard County is overmatched, and we don’t have any issue with the amount of funding put in through [the] General Fund to support transit,” he said.