Howard County Executive Calvin Ball proposed a $2.4 billion budget for the upcoming fiscal year in a presentation to the county council Tuesday night.

The budget is an increase of $200 million from last year’s budget of $2.2 billion.

Within the spending plan proposal, Ball said $13.1 million will go to the police department, $5 million will fund an expansion on the Johns Hopkins Howard County Medical Center’s emergency room and more than $26 million to housing needs.

Ball proposed no tax increase on residents and said there would be a three-cent shift of the fire tax rate, to the county general fund, which would not affect residential or commercial property taxpayers.

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“Despite significant challenges, through our hard work, collaboration, and a commitment to excellence for all we have developed a thoughtful and visionary spending plan that advances our collective priorities,” Ball said.

His proposed budget also transfers $111.9 million in one-time PAYGO funds to infrastructure projects such as the North Laurel Pool, renovations on the historic courthouse in Ellicott City, an indoor track at Troy Park at Elkridge, a new ice-skating rink and more.

Ahead of the release of his fiscal year 2025 budget, Ball announced last week he is seeking funding to turn the Columbia Flier building, a former newspaper headquarters, into The Source Community Center.

Nothing is set in stone with Ball’s proposal. The county council will spend the next several weeks reviewing and potentially adjusting Ball’s proposal before approving a fiscal 2025 budget, including education funding, at the end of May. Then the school board will adopt its final operating budget based on the council’s approved spending plan.

Ball proposes funding $1.14 billion to HCPSS, investments in youth

One day ahead of presenting the budget to council, Ball, at a news conference, gave a sneak peek into his proposed public school system funding.

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Ball announced a total fund of $1.14 billion for the school system Monday afternoon.

He said the amount allocated to the school system “provides a landmark increase to our school system,” as it is the largest amount the schools have received in the county’s history.

“Here in Howard County, we know that education empowers and our investments in our children, families, educators and staff are critical,” Ball said.

He announced the approved amount for the Maintenance of Effort — funding per pupil equal to or greater than last year’s budget — was $52 million. The school board asked for an additional $55.2 million in their approved budget.

In March, the Howard County Board of Education sent Ball a spending plan request for a total of $1.5 billion for the fiscal 2025 budget, including a $1.14 billion ask for the general fund.

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The school system faced a difficult budget season this past winter, having to grapple with a $99.3 million deficit. To address the gap, Acting Superintendent Bill Barnes suggested cutting nearly 348 employees, eliminating well-liked programs and increasing class sizes by two students.

After public hearings and work sessions, the school board sent a budget request to the county increasing class sizes by one student in each class at middle and high schools. The board also restored many proposed staffing cuts and restored third grade orchestra and Gifted and Talented offerings to elementary schools with free and reduced meal percentages equal to or above 40% of the school’s overall student population.

On Monday, Ball announced he intends to fully fund and restore elementary school gifted and talented programs, third grade strings, the environmental education program position, the summer Black student achievement program and the mathematics, engineering and science achievement program.

“By prioritizing the restoration of these programs, we are leaning into our values because we believe that all students in our school system should have access to an excellent education that fully supports their academic, social and emotional growth,” Ball said.

The school board’s adopted budget eliminated approximately 132 school-based positions and 92 non-school-based positions.

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“And it is my goal to do everything in my power and within our fiscal responsibility to make sure each of those team members can be retained,” Barnes said at the news conference.

School Board Chair Jen Mallo echoed Barnes’ focus.

“The board shares in the collective desire to retain all staff in eliminated positions, and we will work with the superintendent to implement strategies that result in a balanced budget and minimal impact on students and staff,” Mallo said Monday.

Last week, Ball announced proposals for increased investments in county youth. For the fiscal 2025 budget, Ball is looking to provide $500,000 to the county’s Youth Engagement Program, known as YEP!, $220,000 to launch a partnership with the Boys & Girls Club and $100,000 to the brand-new Club Wilde Lake, an after-school program for kids. The county has previously provided funding to YEP! And Club Wilde Lake.

Increases to police and fire and rescue staff

In Ball’s proposal, $13.1 million would go to the Howard County Police Department to support 24 more sworn police officers who will patrol in the county starting next month.

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“These new patrol officers have had months of training and are ready to begin serving our public,” Ball said. “Additionally, they will enable the department to apply additional resources to other important roles in the agency like community outreach, crime reduction, and specialized traffic enforcement.”

Fire and rescue will get $9.9 million to support four additional firefighters for “two newly added 12-hour peak load ambulances,” he said.

A one-time boost of $600,000 million is allocated to support volunteer fire stations. The funding would help to maintain infrastructure, purchase new uniforms and buy necessary equipment.

One-time fund of $5 million to expand emergency room

The $5 million will go to the Johns Hopkins Howard County Medical Center to expand the emergency room. The fund will support a new 29-bed observation unit, which will help to reduce wait times, he said.

Three million will go to the R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore. Ball said 400 county residents are seen there annually.

Ball invested a total of $2 million in behavioral and mental health care services and centers.

“These investments not only grow our network of behavioral health care services, they also help reduce hospital wait times by redirecting patients with mental and behavioral health crises into the appropriate care,” he said.

Housing, transportation needs get a boost

Ball directed $16.8 million toward homeownership, housing rehabilitation, affordable housing and homelessness prevention programs.

He proposed to move $10 million to the housing opportunities trust fund that will support gap financing, affordable homeownership, rental assistance and foreclosure assistance.

To keep the public transportation fleet “modern and reliable,” $1.7 million will go toward bus purchases.

He also proposed $120,000 to expand the Regional Transportation Agency of Central Maryland’s bus services to the school system’s central office, the Homewood Center and the Applications and Research Laboratory.

“To ensure that our residents can safely travel to schoolwork recreational activities and other destinations, this budget includes vital investments toward transportation priorities,” Ball said.

$5 million toward forest conservation

Ball proposed a total fund of $5.3 million toward forest conservation, tree planting and environmental preservation.

He also committed $1 million to expand electric vehicle infrastructure and will use $250,00 to launch a climate infrastructure rebate pilot program.

Following the unveiling of his budget, Ball will give more details regarding the funds toward environmental programs Wednesday morning.

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