Discussion at the Howard County Council meeting with SAAC committee

Discussion at the Howard County Council meeting with SAAC committee

I put up the speech last night and did not do much grammar check.

Chair Walsh, thanks for inviting me to this meeting. This is Dr. Chao Wu, chair of Howard County Board of Education. I am not speaking on behalf of the board, even though probably every board member agrees with me.  I appreciate the county council for giving me the opportunity.

Since the release of the Spending Affordability Advisory Committee (SAAC) report, it has been a month and half. Our county executive already released his 2022 capital budget.

I would like to talk about the SAAC report and the ongoing challenges the school system is facing. I am also proposing two possible solutions. 

First, let’s talk about 2022 school system capital projects. There is an urgent funding need for school maintenance and three new construction projects (Talbott Springs ES, Hammond High and HS 13). Under the county executive 2022 capital budget, the gap is as high as 30 million dollars for the school system.

  1. The Board and HCPSS staff have continuously noted during public discussions with the County Council and State Delegation regarding the costs of these three construction projects. These projects moved forward with construction in 2021 because of the joint commitment to maintain this funding. 
  2. However, with  the current capital funding level from the county’s 2022 capital budget, we have to defer many maintenance projects again. Some projects have been deferred for more than 10 years, even 20 years. That is one reason why the school system is having a 800 million dollars maintenance list since we keep deferring them. Here are some examples:
    1. ARL Heating ventilation and Air Conditioning renovation, last replaced 1968. Older than many people here. The cost is 25 million dollars.
    2. Centennial High School Renovation, Addition and HVAC replacement, last replaced 1997. Cost 90 million dollars.
    3. Dunloggin Middle School, Renovation, Addition and HVAC replacement, last replaced in 1994,  cost 41 million dollars.
    4. Elkridge Landing Middle School, HVAC replacement, last replaced 1995. Cost 10 million dollars
    5. Forest Ridge Elementary School, Heating ventilation and air conditioning system replacement, last replaced 1992, cost 42 million dollars
    6. Fulton Elementary School, HVAC and Roof replacement, last replaced 1997, cost 18 million dollars
    7. Hammond Middle School, Renovation and HVAC replacement, 41 million dollars
    8. Harpers Choice Middle school, renovation and HVAC replacement, 17 million dollars,
    9. Jefferson Hills ES, Boiler replacement, last replaced 1974, cost 0.5 million dollars; HVAC replacement, last replaced 1998, cost 51 million dollars
    10. Long Reach High School, HVAC replacement, 38 million dollars
    11. Manor Woods Elementary School, HVAC replacement, last replaced 1994, cost 10 million dollars
    12. Mayfield Woods MS renovation, 41 million dollars
    13. Oakland Mills High School, renovation,  last renovated 1973, cost 110 million 
    14. Oakland Mills Middle School renovation, 51 million dollars
    15. Old Cedar Lane, replacement of heating, ventilation, air conditioning, last replaced 1982, cost 10 million dollars
    16. Patapsco Middle School, Renovation and HVAC replacement, last replaced 1996, cost 51 million dollars
    17. Pointers Run Elementary School, renovation, 20 million dollars
    18. St Johns Lane Elementary School, HVAC replacement, , 16 million dollars
    19. Wilde Lake High School, HVAC and boilers replacement.  Cost 5.5 million dollars.
  3. New school construction is needed for our country’s rapid development and continuous student enrollment increase. 
  4. Maintenance funding is needed to provide a safe and pleasant working and learning environment. 
  5. Missing either new school funding or the maintenance funding will lead us to a more dire situation since we don’t see any relief coming soon:  future county revenue projection is slowing down and the student enrollment keeps increasing due to fast housing development across the whole county. 

Second, let’s talk about the operating budget. We are looking forward that a hold-harmless number (maintaining FY21 funding level) should be maintained. We did see the enrollment dip because of the pandemic. However, we should expect the student will come back in the fall when we expect HCPSS will have full five-day in-classroom instruction. We should have this confidence that HCPSS will continue to provide quality education to attract parents and students to come to our school. 

Third, over the last three budget cycles, HCPSS has realigned and reduced spending considerably by eliminating positions, increasing class sizes and cutting programs to balance our budget. We can only do so much with limited funding. 

Finally, I strongly believe and propose a solution:  our county’s capital project funding ,operating budget funding and our county’s planning and zoning (by the way, I mean HoCo by Design or the general plan) should always put HCPSS in the center of every decision. 

Proposal for MOE formula for deferred maintenance

 I also propose that we create an MOE (maintenance of effort) for deferred maintenance too, which will hold our county executive and county council accountable for our school system’s maintenance funding.  Once a current aging HVAC system fails catastrophically and no replacement parts will be available due to the old aging system, we have no wiggle room to defer them any longer. The longer we kick the can further away, the higher cost it needs in the future. Keeping deferring them is to cheat ourselves and jeopardize our short term and long term financial health. Past decisions not funding them sufficiently and aggregating to such a large number should be a waking call for us all.

More than 90% of our county’s tax comes from personal income tax and property tax. We should value our parents’ trust in our education system. So all stakeholders, including the county executive, county council and the school board should work hard, both on the funding side and planning side to maintain HCPSS’s reputation. 

Thank you.

HoCo County Council Bill CB 24-2021

HoCo County Council Bill CB 24-2021

CB24-2021 has two amendment areas.

  1. The first addresses the addition of a public ethics report to be made by applicants for development regarding campaign contributions/business with County Council members and/or the County Executive.
  2. The second would prohibit action on proposed zoning regulation amendments during a period leading up to the adoption of a new Howard County General Plan (specifically, nine years after the implementation of the current plan up until the new plan is adopted – this plan is currently on a 10-year cycle, thus this would apply one year before adoption).

While staff cannot estimate a direct impact on HCPSS without knowing what proposed regulations may be delayed by the bill, generally they would agree with the notion that if changes to the General Plan are imminent within the next year, passing new zoning regulations may be counterintuitive to the purpose of the plan itself to provide guidance.

The video is here:

Eliminate fee in lieu development loophole

My short comment on The Business Monthly

I appreciate Mrs. Lisa Markovitz’s article “Can we get affordable housing more affordable”.

I totally agree with that: “this “fee in lieu of” has created a concentration of AFUs in areas with lower-priced housing”. I am seeing a few low-incoming housing projects are being proposed in the low-incoming neighborhoods now. Our advocates on affordable housing either from the community, the county council or the county government should work to remove this “pay as you go” approach. The county has the legal authority to set the criteria for the new development to meet both the affordable housing requirement and APFO standards. We should not allow developers to set this policy. 


There are several  key questions to be answered. What is a reasonable level and distribution of affordable housing units in the whole county? How much more development the county can consume in each area considering APFO? Please take consideration of the cost of infrastructure (school capacity, for example) as another key parameter. What is the highest percentage of affordable housing which will prevent developers not building houses in Howard County anymore? 
I hope this kind of information is publicly available for our county residents to see and understand and guide our policy-makers on new housing developments. 

Columbia Development Tracker 2020-02

The document is developed by Columbia Association. I used to update the community pretty often on this when I was on CA board. Tonight I took a look and found many new development changes. https://www.columbiaassociation.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/vers-2-Development-Tracker-February-2020.pdf

There are several big developments:

  1. Dorsey Overlook development has 82 units. I thought it was originally designed for 55+ community. Now it did not mention that.
  2. Columbia Downtown development asks for extra 300 units.
  3. Erickson Senior Living rezones 62.116 acres from B-2 & RC-DEO to CEF-M.
  4. Robinson Overlook moderate incoming housing (48 units) keeps moving on.
  5. River Hill Square ( River Hill Garden Center) submitted a commercial variance request to reduce the setback from a residential district from 30 feet to 0 feet.

HoCo development mystery

I talked about Howard County development mystery before. One tiny example is that developers provide their own traffic study to mitigate traffic problem. Then almost all traffic study is green-lighted. In my view, the County should charge a fee and hire an independent third party to conduct traffic study. In that way, the study is more objective. How do we think a developer paid traffic study can be impartial?

Here is another article on today’s Columbia Flier: developer’s donations should be branded as conflict of interests.