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From the Desk of
County Executive Jan Gardner

(2/2016) 2016 Priorities – Education, Jobs, Seniors, and Community

I am writing this column in the midst of the blizzard of 2016! Hope by the time you are reading this, the weather is a little less snowy.

I wanted to share with you my priorities for Frederick County for 2016. We live in a beautiful county and are blessed with good schools, a safe place to live, and a high quality of life. In fact, we were just ranked in the top ten counties to live in the United States (#9). Our collective challenge is to keep it that way!

Education: One of our biggest challenges in the next few years is keeping school construction on track and on time in the face of dramatically rising costs. We need to build two new elementary schools to address serious overcrowding in the City of Frederick and in Urbana. Right now, the capital budget is short $36 million to build both schools in the same budget year – meaning there is only enough money for one school. To solve this challenge, I am asking our delegation to introduce a bill to require the state to pay or cost share in new state mandates that have increased the cost of our schools; I am advocating for more state dollars; and, I am asking developers to be part of the solution through impact and school mitigation fees that reflect the actual increased cost of school construction. Some creative and out of the box ideas are also being pursued. All of these proposals are needed to keep school construction on track.

Our schools also need to attract and retain the best teachers in our classrooms since teachers make the biggest difference to our student outcomes. We need to make sure we address class size and provide the breadth of course work to students that they need for work or college. Our children have to compete globally for jobs and need the skills and course offerings to be prepared. I have committed to funding above the minimum level required by law (Maintenance of Effort) and to direct half of all new revenues to education.

Jobs: We know that having a job is fundamental to a high quality of life. Frederick County is already one of Maryland’s economic engines. Our unemployment rate dropped to 4.6% as the number of jobs here rose. Housing prices are rebounding faster in Frederick County than for the average county our size. Our economic output has grown to $11 billion. Frederick is leading the way in Maryland.

To encourage more jobs and to keep our young people living and working right here in Frederick County, I am advancing plans to create a business innovation center at 118 N. Market Street in Frederick. The center would include a new IT and technology incubator under the umbrella of the county’s Frederick Innovative Technology Center Inc. (FITCI). I hope to engage students from both Hood College and Mt. St. Mary’s University. Companies growing out of our incubator have located their businesses in Frederick County. For example, HSRL Pathology spent six months at FITCI before outgrowing the space. In 2008, the company moved into the old bowling alley and roller rink on Frederick Road in Thurmont. FITCI has been very successful in supporting start up businesses and creating jobs in Frederick. We need to keep that energy going.

It’s true that the small towns and rural areas of the county have had challenges with job growth. The best opportunities are to support our Main Street programs and to encourage and support small businesses. We are working collaboratively to market our small town Main Streets. To support small businesses, my legislative package to Annapolis includes a small business tax credit. We recently launched a small business loan guarantee fund to assist start ups with gap financing. And, we have a small business specialist to help our small businesses get started. We also support our agriculture industry through our Agriculture Economic Development Specialist.

Another way we’re looking to add jobs is through regional efforts. The Office of Economic Development is partnering with the Tech Council of Maryland for a first-of-its-kind CEO mentoring program. We’re also participating in efforts to brand the region as a hub for life sciences and technology. We’re making it clear that Frederick County means business!

Seniors: One of the biggest tasks of 2016 is standing up Citizens Care and Rehabilitation Center and Montevue Assisted Living. It will be a heavy lift to transition the homes back under County ownership. I will be looking for expertise to help make this transition to fulfill our promise to take care of Frederick’s seniors.

I also look to the Seniors First steering committee to make recommendations about how to best prepare to take advantage of our rapidly growing population of seniors and plan for services. Stay tuned for more.

Community In 2016, I look to strengthen our partnerships with our non-profit human service agencies to be more effective in helping all citizens be successful. We have begun this process with Community Partnership Grants. A housing study is also under way to provide information on how to best utilize and leverage affordable housing fees paid by new development. We want to make sure we use these funds wisely to provide housing for seniors and to keep our young people living here too.

While we’re on the topic of housing, I want to share some exciting news. A few months ago, we developed a partnership with non-profit Interfaith Housing Alliance to redevelop a former county school building into about 55 workforce rental units. I am please to share that the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development awarded $15 million in tax credit equity to fund the majority of the project. This is a fantastic project that not only adds some affordable rental units but reinvests in our core community and puts a vacant building back onto our tax rolls.

I also want to finish a number of initiatives that were started in the past year including updating the county comprehensive land use plan called Livable Frederick and advancing ideas from the public outreach forums on solid waste and recycling solutions. We will also be highlighting our first all electric transit busses in April – the first in the region. And, we will see some key transportation projects move forward. The State has provided construction funding for a new interchange at I-270 and MD 85, several improvements along U.S. 15, and a new bridge over Flat Run in Emmitsburg will be constructed.

It is a great time to be living in Frederick County!

Read other articles from Frederick County Government Officials