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Ulman’s proposed capital budget sticks to basics, environment

A bit less borrowing and a little more cash mark Howard County Executive Ken Ulman‘s proposed $179.3 million capital budget proposal for fiscal 2012, along with a larger emphasis on environmental projects.

His twin goals, he said, are “to finish up some of these larger projects and to continue progress on parks like Blandair, and in education.”

To that end, Ulman wants to spend $10 million for storm-water facility upgrades, stream and watershed improvements and retrofits to capture rainwater and prevent runoff. That, Ulman said, represents a 150 percent increase in spending for those purposes.

“We really worked hard to find money to improve water quality,” he said. The budget now goes to the County Council. Councilwoman Mary Kay Sigaty praised that move, saying the county hasn’t done enough in that area.

“I think it’s really important he’s putting money into stormwater projects,” the west Columbia Democrat said.

As usual, county schools get the biggest single chunk of construction money, with $50 million in county funds added to $20 million in state money, nearly $2 million more than schools got last year.

The most expensive individual projects are $15.2 million toward the $57 million renovation of Atholton High School, $11 million toward a new northeastern elementary school in the U.S. Route 1 corridor and $15 million more to help complete Howard Community College‘s health sciences building. The college is getting a total of $31.7 million, including $12.4 million in state funds

County Councilwoman Courtney Watson, a Democrat who represents Elkridge and Ellicott City, wants the new elementary school built quickly. “Hopefully we’re going to get that site nailed down in time to open a school in 2013,” she said.

Phelps Luck Elementary is to get $5.5 million for renovations, and another $810,000 will pay for seats at Gorman Crossing Elementary in North Laurel. Ulman proposed spending $24 million on systemic building renovations, another $5 million for roof repairs and $5 million for technical upgrades. Schools slated for some of that money include Cradlerock School in Owen Brown, Thunder Hill, Bollman Bridge, Elkridge and Clarksville elementary schools.

Ulman said he “wanted to send a message” by asking for authorization to sell $95 million in county bonds instead of the $100 million ceiling recommended by the Spending Affordability Committee. He also put $10.2 million in cash into the proposal, after several years of holding back because of the recession. Cash prevents borrowing and reduces future debt for bond interest. Half of that money would come from anticipated revenue surpluses expected this fiscal year, which ends June 30, and the rest is left from projects that have not progressed on schedule, he said.

Nearly half of that cash — or about $4.7 million — would go for road resurfacing to help make up for the loss of almost all state highway aid during the recession. Two years ago, the county received $16 million from the state for roads, but this fiscal year that dropped to $500,000. Widening of Marriottsville Road north of Route 99 was pushed back, since state funding for that project is delayed, but the county would spend $3.8 million to realign Montevideo Road’s connection to U.S. 1, where a new retail/office project and a county fire station are planned.

The county also spent $7 million to finish paying for renovations to the three county office buildings in Ellicott City.

Ulman is also proposing to spend $5 million to build roads into the first portion of Blandair Park, the 300-acre former farm in east Columbia bisected by Route 175. The money would open the way to the park’s first ball fields south of the state highway and connect Oakland Mills Road to Route 175.

Another $1.2 million in county funds would advance work on the park itself. Troy Regional Park in Elkridge would get another $500,000 in county money to continue the start of development there. The budget would provide $950,000 to improve access to the 1,000-acre Middle Patuxent Environmental Area that stretches from Clarksville to the new Robinson Nature Center under construction on Cedar Lane in west Columbia.

“It’s definitely a gem. That’s pretty significant,” said Sigaty said about the environmental area.

Another $1.9 million would complete payment for the new, larger library and historical society center in Ellicott City. Other projects include $1.2 million to buy a site between Bauman and Rowanberry roads near I-95 for a new, expanded Elkridge volunteer fire station.

“Money for site acquisition for the Elkridge fire station is important because that building down there is woefully inadequate,” Watson said.

larry.carson@baltsun.com