As 2015 comes to a close, WMAR is taking the opportunity to catch up with some of the county executives from around the area on the state of their counties.
The following is a brief Q&A with Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman.
For more on the state of Howard County, watch ABC2 In Focus at 6 p.m.
WMAR: What do you identify as the biggest challenge facing your county in 2016?
Kittleman: One of the biggest challenges facing Howard County is meeting the infrastructure needs that have gone unmet for many years. Our roadways, water and sewer infrastructure and public buildings all need critical improvements, while at the same time, we must keep up with the growing needs of our community in areas of education, public safety and amenities such as parks and libraries.
Sustaining our excellent quality of life will require that we build a community that can keep up with growth. To achieve that goal, we have made great strides in economic development to attract and retain thriving businesses. I am committed to making our great county even better, but without unnecessarily taxing our residents and businesses.
WMAR: What would you identify as a “win” in your county that people might not know about?
Kittleman: We worked with state and federal officials to reverse a HUD proposal which would have cut housing support for almost 1,300 families in Howard County.
We signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Board of Education to transfer ownership of the historic Harriet Tubman School Building so it can be preserved as a historic, educational and cultural center.
We have put forward a plan to eliminate the Watershed Protection and Restoration fee (“rain tax”) to relieve county taxpayers of this additional fee without impacting the work we are required to complete.
We’ve taken the InterCounty Broadband Network and found ways to make it work for our residents and businesses. Our pilot program to provide free WiFi access in Historic Ellicott City has been a success, and I hope to expand it to other business centers. We’re also working on using the ICBN and private partners to expand internet service to underserved areas of the County.
Last month, I announced the Local Small Business Initiative, which will make it easier for local companies to do business with Howard County.
We announced new initiatives to improve mental health services and expanded the role of the Office of Community Sustainability so that they can more effectively work on sustainability initiatives related to agricultural, economic and infrastructure issues.
WMAR: Are there any new plans for 2016?
Kittleman: Downtown Columbia is continuing to grow - with the Crescent Project underway and the Metropolitan complex nearly complete. Renovations to the almost 50-year-old Merriweather Post Pavilion will ensure that it continues to be a world-class music venue. I’m looking forward to 2016 when much of the planning and work we’ve done this year will come to fruition.
We plan to improve services for our growing senior population, with new 50+ fitness centers and better programs to encourage aging in place. We will also be looking to improve services to our residents who are veterans.
We are also working on the revitalization of aging neighborhoods and community centers. In 2016, we hope to attract a private developer for the Long Reach Village Center and start the process to revitalize the Oakland Mills Village Center.
These are just a few items. Over the next several weeks and in my State of the County address, we’ll have more to announce.
WMAR: What are some of the biggest needs or challenges in your county’s education system?
Kittleman: We have one of the strongest public school systems in the nation. Education will continue to be a top priority of our administration. We are working closely with the Howard County Board of Education to meet the evolving needs of our diverse and growing student population, particularly focusing on how County Government can work with the school system to eliminate the achievement gap with some of our students. We’ve also made progress on locating a new site for a high school in eastern Howard County to accommodate population growth.
WMAR: Describe the status of your county’s water, roads and sewers. What are your plans to improve, repair and/or maintain the infrastructure?
Kittleman: We certainly need to make investments to improve our aging water and sewer and road infrastructure, particularly as the County continues to grow. We are updating our wastewater treatment plant and have invested in road resurfacing and other transportation improvements. I have made transportation infrastructure a top priority. Working with our regional partners, we’re looking at opportunities to improve our existing bus system, including exploring the possibility of Bus Rapid Transit along Route 29, while also making road improvements such widening US 29, Route 32 and improving access to the Columbia Gateway Business Park from MD 175.
WMAR: What is the biggest public safety issue facing your county? What is your plan to address it?
Kittleman: We are fortunate to have outstanding leadership and personnel in our police, fire and corrections departments. Like other jurisdictions, we face challenges with heroin/opioid addiction and human trafficking. Our police and firefighters have been trained in the use of Narcan to save the lives of individuals who have a heroin overdose. We initiated a new program to aid victims of human trafficking and hired a second police officer so we now have two full-time police officers dedicated to combating this heinous crime.
WMAR: If you had to describe your county in one phrase, what would it be?
Kittleman: “A caring, sustainable community where you can live, work, and play”