Howard County department heads faced hours of stern questioning from the county council Thursday on the proposed $179 million of spending in the FY12 capital budget.
The Department of Public Works fielded much of the scrutiny after County Executive Ken Ulman highlighted stormwater management and infrastructure improvements as some of the most important additions to the FY 2012 budget, alongside education.
The issue of speeding in communities and school zones drew a lot of discussion as the county as a possible remedy to what Councilwoman Courtney Watson called “the number one complaint from citizens in the county.”
The proposed FY 2012 spending budget for intersection improvements, which includes speed control, would be just over $1 million.
James Irvin, public works director, said county policy is steering away from strategies like speed humps in problem areas because of what he perceives as controversy tied into such projects.
But Watson (D-Ellicott City) noted the most recent speed hump project, on Hunt Club Road in Elkridge, where the community approved speed humps “without a lot of controversy.”
Irvin conceded that he has “not heard any complaints.”
“So we’re going to spend $30,000, and we’re going to help that neighborhood with their speeding problem, but we don’t think that’s the solution for the rest of the county?” Watson asked.
“At this point it does not appear to be the right solution,” Irvin replied.
Watson reiterated that, although speed humps are not the “preferred” solution, alternatives, in addition to speed cameras, must be considered. She said she didn’t believe the speed bump program “was all that bad.”
“The decision was not to do anything until the speed camera program was decided upon,” Irvin told the council. According to the department’s website, Ulman decided to stop traffic-slowing projects like speed bumps in light of the Maryland General Assembly’s passage of speed camera legislation in 2009.
“There’s got to be something we can do about this problem that is not related to the school zones and the speed camera discussion, which is an entirely separate discussion,” Watson said.
The council is scheduled to have a public hearing on speed cameras April 20.
Stormwater management would receive $10 million under the proposed budget, a 155 percent increase from last year’s budget, which didn’t break $4 million.
Stormwater, the water that does not percolate through soil but instead picks up chemicals from roadways and rooftops on its way to local waterways, is a source of pollution in the Chesapeake Bay that the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to regulate in the near future.
Councilwoman Mary Kay Sigaty (D-Columbia) warned that stormwater limits are coming regardless of budget constraints or current facility limitations.
“These are the kinds of things that we ultimately will not have a choice about… when we are given our Total Maximum Daily Load numbers [from the EPA],” Sigaty said.
Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) are limits on the nutrients and sediments that harm aquatic life, and the EPA is working to assign a TMDL for every major tributary of the Chesapeake Bay.
Irvin said retrofitting facilities with stormwater management improvements is “the right thing to do for the bay.”
Here is the list of some of the other spending budgets discussed in the proposed Capital Budget work session:
- Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue-$7.4 million (down 47 percent from FY 2011)
- Howard County Recreation and Parks-$6.6 million (up 15 percent)
- Public Works General County-$32.2 million (down 36 percent)
- Sewer - 20.6 million (up 58 percent)
- Water - $10.75 million (down 15 percent)
- Storm Drainage - $10 million (up 155 percent)
- Bridges - $600,000 (up 15 percent)
- Road Resurfacing - $4.7 million
- Sidewalk/Curb Projects - $685,000 (down 10 percent)
- Intersection Improvements - $1.1 million (up 35 percent)
The county council will hear from the public on education, library and Howard Community College budgets, also included in the capital budget proposal, in mid-May.