As presented to the Howard County Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, February 27, 2019.
Thank you all so much for your support and your attendance today, and thank you Leonardo for very kind introduction. And, on a personal note, I'd just like to thank you for your dedication to our residents, and also your willingness, to serve on not only my transition team, but the exploratory committee to create an Ellicott City Community Development Corporation. Let's give Leonardo a big round of applause.
I'd also like to thank Pete Mangione and the Mangione family for hosting us once again here at Turf Valley and for all that you do for our community. Pete, this is your 40th year of ownership of Turf Valley, and here’s to 40 more.
This year, we're celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Chamber of Commerce. 1969, the year the Chamber was founded, was also the year that we began a Charter form of government and when we swore in our first County Executive and County Council. It's an honor to deliver my first "State of the County" address as your county executive and over the past years, I've had the honor of serving with many great leaders on the County Council, and I look forward to growing with our new County Council -- Christiana, Opel, Liz, Deb, David -- over the next few years. Please give them a big round of applause.
Recently, I had the pleasure of spending time with some of our former County Executives – and hearing their experiences and getting some great advice was invaluable.
And we are going to acknowledge some amazing Howard County residents this afternoon, but first and foremost, I'd like to acknowledge an incredible person in my life, my rock, the best wife and mother to our "A-Team," Alexis and Alyssa, and the first lady of Howard County, Shani Ball.
Since taking office in December, I and my leadership team and my Cabinet, have dedicated ourselves to serving Howard County in a manner that continues to foster our excellence. Jim Rouse wisely noted that “Visions describe what best should be, could be - if and when mankind has the will to make them real.”
I know we have the shared vision and the will to make Howard County the “Best County in this Nation…” not just overall, but for all. Not because we have one of the best public education systems, and I'd like to acknowledge Dr. Martirano, and Kirsten Coombs and the other members of the Board of Ed...and not just because we have one of the safest communities, not just because our communities like Columbia continue to attract families, businesses, and the arts, and not just because we are critical to the national security of this country, not even just because we have residents who are resilient, compassionate, and civil. We are going to be the best county throughout the nation because we are going to govern decisively and have a sense of urgency in addressing the challenges of today and seizing the opportunities of tomorrow, while advancing Howard County values .
When I selected my leadership team and cabinet appointments, I wanted the commonality of urgency, passion, and compassion to serve all of our residents. I’d like to ask each member of my leadership team and to cabinet to stand so I can recognize you for your dedication.
The Howard County government is made up of nearly 3,500 employees who are committed to treating every one of our residents like family. And unfortunately, over the last year, our government tragically lost a member of our family.
Nathan Flynn was a 34-year-old firefighter and a 13-year veteran of the Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services assigned to Station 10, Rivers Park in Columbia. Responding to a fire at a large home in the early hours of the morning, Nathan died battling that inferno. Nate was our first career Howard County firefighter to perish in the line of duty. And we're honored to have Nate’s wife, Celeste, and his family, joining us today. Thank you for your dedication. We appreciate Nate's heroism and sacrifice.
I'd also like to take this moment to acknowledge all of those who put their lives on the line each and every day for our safety. I'm proud to have selected two of the best first responders in the state to lead our police and fire departments and would like to acknowledge Police Chief Lisa Myers and Fire and Rescue Services Chief Christine Uhlhorn.
The decisions and investments we make now will impact the residents of our county over decades and future generations. History will be our judge for the choices we make today.
And we must stand up for our children who are struggling to overcome the achievement gap.
We must stand up for our families who can barely afford to live in our community but contribute to the beautiful tapestry of who we are.
We must stand up for those older adults on fixed incomes, who sometimes are forced to choose between rent, food or their prescriptions.
We must stand up for our neighbors and loved ones with with mental health challenges or substance abuse addictions.
We have to stand up for our homeless sisters and brothers, as well as those who are targeted because of their religion or who they love.
“Our Time is Now” to stand up for all of our residents.
And to fully understand the concerns of our residents, we did something that most politicians aren't well known for – we listened. Throughout our first two months in office, we gathered over 100 of the brightest minds in Howard County to serve on my Transition Team, and last month they presented us with that report.
I want to acknowledge and thank Senate Majority Leader Guy Guzzone for Chairing this Transition Team and everyone who volunteered your time, and if you served on the transition team, please stand and be acknowledged. Thank you. And if you haven't had an opportunity to read it, please do. They provided us with 282 “areas of opportunities” to improve the Howard County .
And, during our first 60 days, we also hosted nine listening sessions around the County and on social media. Over 800 residents participated and we received nearly 600 comments. And we analyzed the content of those suggestions, and a couple of weeks ago, we publicized and shared an “infographic.”
As we did analysis on the listening session data, we saw that there were striking similarities between the concerns we were hearing and the recommendations in our transition team report. However, frankly, what keeps me up at night is that if we want to become the best, then we'll need to make very tough fiscal decisions early on and be good stewards of your taxpayer dollars.
Our priority is crystal clear -- to ensure that we maintain our Triple A Bond rating. In case you missed this headline last November by Bloomberg and I wanted to share it with you, because it alarmed me. “One of America's Richest Suburbs Lost Its AAA Bond Rating.” This article is about Westchester County, NY, a place where the median price of single home is $675,000 and the average property-tax bill was the highest in the U.S. – losing their Triple A bond rating to financial mismanagement.
And the thought of Howard County losing its Triple A bond rating should be a cause of concern to every county resident, business, and government official. Only 43 of the over 3,000 counties across our country have achieved those Triple A bond ratings from each of the three bond rating agencies. Howard County has done that for 22 years. That's right, I voted on 13 of those budgets.
This is critically important to our county finances, allowing reduced cost over the life of the borrowing and helping us to address the challenges and opportunities that we face. Howard County saves approximately $700,000 per $100 million of bond issuance for being a Triple-A as compared to just a Double- A.
So why am I so concerned? For the first time in over a decade, we are no longer one of the top five wealthiest counties in the nation. In fact, we recently dropped out of the Top 10, to Number 13 .
Our Fire Fund is growing in its structural deficit. An increase in the fire tax rate was needed, frankly, years ago and will be required to keep the fund solvent for the foreseeable future. Our Police department has essentially kept its sworn po sitions flat during the past few years and a recent consultant’s study identified significant staffing needs to adequately support public safety. Our Department of Public Works has an over $52 million dollar backlog in road resurfacing and repair work. Our Detention Center, built in 1982, has multiple security, regulatory and operational issues that haven’t been addressed in years which now require millions of dollars of immediate investment. A replacement building in the future may cost an estimated $87 million dollars. Howard County’s debt service payments continue to grow, taking on one-third to half of our new revenues each year.
Furthermore, our population continues to grow. We see our student population has grown at a rate of 1.5% and our 65 and over population is growing at 4 to 5 times that rate. Our school system has submitted a record breaking budget request and all of this equals a lot of tough decisions to make. We have plenty of wants, and needs, and recommendations to address these problems.
Let’s tackle the first major theme from our listening sessions: community planning and development. I've heard numerous concerns emphasizing the need to be more mindful of the impact of new development on the everyday experiences of our residents. And, there should be a balance between continuing to invest in new development and preserving the quality of life for our communities, the integrity of our infrastructure, and the natural beauty of our county.
We need to be more intentional about maintaining this balance, as we plan for continued growth and renewal of this great county for our children and generations to come. An important element of this future will be “complete streets,” so every resident has safe and equitable access to our County. I listened and took the comments seriously as dozens of cyclists came in their full bike gear, advocating for streets that provide safe access to users. I will make Complete Streets a priority to promote our vision of a true multi-modal transportation system, beginning with more bike lanes.
Howard County and needs to lead when it comes to Bus Rapid Transit. BRT offers the opportunity to transform the way we work, play, and experience everything our region has to offer. Our residents demand it, our business community supports it, and we are making it a transportation priority for Howard County.
More immediately, we are improving the RTA bus system by implementing route changes, expanding service, and improving connections based on passenger and community input. What this means is starting May 5th, passengers can count on more frequent, reliable and more punctual buses, even more Saturday service and even Sunday service on specific routes. So, when it comes to transportation… “Our time is now.” We must move quickly, but we also must make smart and sustainable decisions.
We're proud of our thriving businesses and partners. To be the best, we need to support our invaluable businesses who are already here, while continuing to attract innovative partners into this economic ecosystem.
A couple of weeks ago, several news stations covered that the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory plans to launch a spacecraft and crash it into an oncoming asteroid to make sure that our planet is protected from the impact. Here is the first paragraph in the Baltimore Sun article covering this story.
“A team of scientists, astronomers and engineers meets weekly in a conference room on a Howard County, Md., research campus and plans to save the world.”
Just think about that for a second and about what it says about our county. I want to take this moment to acknowledge Dr. Semmel, Director of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab and Program Manager Helene Winters. And here's to saving the world. As our partners do their part, we will also do ours to spur innovation and success.
Another emerging theme in the listening series was our public-school system. To ensure that our prosperity will continue for generations ahead, we must connect the dots between our scientific and economic success, to where it all begins: our school system.
Residents move to Howard County because of our schools. Businesses move to Howard County because of our schools. And the success of our school system is our county’s proudest achievement and frankly, our “calling card.”
Our Time is Now to invest in each one of our schools and in all of our children, by increasing our commercial tax base revenue, ensuring education funding is a priority. Our Time is Now to fight for more state funding for our schools. And Our Time is Now to address overcrowding and foster the best teaching and learning environment for all our children and all of our educators.
I want it to be clear, we are going to build high schools #13 and #14. I'm committed to finding funding and doing my part to ensure both schools are built by 2025. And Our Time is Now to plan better and find available sites for future middle schools and elementary schools. All of our kids and educators should be in modern, nurturing teaching and learning environments and old schools with deferred maintenance and adding more portable classrooms just doesn't cut it.
We also need to pay attention to the entire spectrum of childhood development, from Early Pre-K to the use of our libraries, parks, and community centers. Prioritizing our children’s success before they even start elementary school is a key to building a strong foundation upon which they can grow. I also want to take a moment to thank the Governor and Lt. Governor for our recently received $4 million grant from the Maryland State Department of Education for early childhood education. This grant will also be used by the Community Action Council of Howard County to offer expanded programming in its early childhood education centers. And I'd also like to recognize Bita Dayhoff for all your time and energy over the years.
No discussion of education in Howard County would be complete without mentioning our topnotch community college – one of the best colleges in the nation and a partner in building a workforce for the future and growing innovators of tomorrow. Please join me in thanking Dr. Hetherington, her team, and the Board of Trustees at HCC.
During last year’s "State of the County" address, Ellicott City was a Howard County success story. Just over a year and half from a 1000-year flood, this county showed that we can get quickly up on our feet from a disaster. Three months later, Old Ellicott City was flooded once again and sadly, it came at the loss of another life, and a town devastated.
We lost National Guardsman, Sgt. Eddison “Eddie” Hermond, who unselfishly risked his life attempting to save the lives of others. He will never be forgotten by our county for his actions. His story represents the dedication, resiliency, and unity of the Ellicott City community.
Last year’s flood made it clear that this county must do something different, and it must be done with the understanding that storm threats will be more frequent and more severe. That is why, just three weeks after taking office, I unveiled Phase 1 of our Ellicott City Safe and Sound Plan.
Safe and Sound is a multi-phase plan built upon the need for public safety, supporting business, and creating a more community-driven process for decisions of Ellicott City’s future. We're exploring opportunities for Main Street that make Ellicott City safer, while preserving the history and the culture that make it a national treasure.
We created a flood mitigation assistance pilot program that will offer matching grants for flood mitigation projects on structures in designated areas. We enhanced inspection and debris removal of nine waterways. We purchased devices for an emergency notification system. And, we launched a committee to explore developing an Ellicott City Community Development Corporation. We're making progress on our plan on a weekly basis, please follow our progress at
Whether it's standing with our federal workers and contractors, caring for our residents suffering from addiction and health challenges, supporting our children and educators, valuing our older adults, preserving our environment, or growing the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs, we choose to listen to the concerns, we choose to find solutions, and we choose to utilize innovative practices for every part of Howard County and accept all the challenges before us, without delay, not “because it is easy, but because it hard.”
We are Howard County and we look out for each other. We are Howard County and we “save the world.” We are Howard County and “Our Time Is Now.” We will be the best county in this nation because we are going to govern for all Howard County residents. Thank you and God bless you.
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