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County to hear public on $105M capital plan

(Jan. 9, 2015) The Worcester County Commissioners on Feb. 3 will hear what the public has to say about a five-year capital improvements plan that, if left unaltered, would total $105.6 million.

That, however, is not just a big “if,” but a mighty “if,” as that includes everything the county departments feel ought to be done from 2016 through 2020..

Chief Administrator Harold Higgins repeated several times Tuesday, when the commissioners set the hearing date, that “inclusion of a project in the plan does not constitute a guarantee of funding by the county.”

Commission President M. Jim Bunting went futher, describing the plan as a “Christmas list.”

Budget Accountant Kim Watts said in her memo to the commissioners that about 11.6 percent of the funds for these projects would come from the General Fund, while 53.26 percent would come from bond issues. The remaining portion, Watts noted, could come from user fees, grant funding, state match funds, designated funds, enterprise fund bonds or a bank loan.

A breakdown of the requests shows which department is looking a big ticket items:

• The Treasurer’s office requested $550,000 in 2016 for upgrades to tax software to streamline the collection and billing processes. The estimate was developed, according to the report submitted to the county, in consultation with vendors and other municipalities because the older system lacked support and can’t easily handle budget changes.

• The county’s 800Mhz emergency services radio system is approaching its “end of life.” New consoles at the dispatch center plus related base station equipment in Berlin, Newark and Klej Grange Road are included in the $5.3 million request.

• The new Berlin Library branch is included in the plan at a cost of $5.18 million, taking into account $560,000 in prior allocations for the project.

• Public Works wants $3.1 million for the cap and closure of the Berlin rubble fill disposal station. The station is expected to be closed in 2016 and the preference of Commissioners Bunting and Chip Bertino is that it will be replaced with a station close to the current location and offer the same services.

It also requests $1 million per year, alongside about $753,000 in prior allocations for road paving and about $3.8 million during fiscal 2017 and 2018 for a new storage building in Snow Hill.

• The Water/Wastewater has four requests, two totaling about $4.1 million for Mystic Harbour system interconnections and effluent disposal, another $1 million for Newark spray irrigation and almost $600,000 for the replacement of Ocean Pines’ belt filter press, which is described to be in “poor” condition.

• The public schools request puts the aforementioned in perspective. Replacing Showell Elementary School and an addition to Stephen Decatur Middle pushed the Department of Education’s request of nearly $60 million into nosebleed territory. The replacement school is estimated to cost $50 million, with the bulk of expenditures — $20.3 and $19 million — scheduled for fiscal 2019 and 2020 respectively.

The addition will cost about $9 million and will place its major burdens on the budget also during 2019 and 2020.

• The Solid Waste Department has little choice but to address the elevated methane gas levels detected near the site of the closed landfill. The Maryland Department of Environment has directed the county to take the necessary action. Another $200,000 joins the $400,000 already allocated for the remediation.

A new cell at the county’s central landfill also needs to be constructed, and a permitting issue with the Maryland Department of Environment has delayed the project. This department requests $8.6 million for the construction and another $1 million to improve the Landfill Administration building, which has not been renovated in 20 years. Were this to be approved, it would take place in fiscal 2017 and 2018.

• The Recreation and Parks department wants $2.3 million over five years to acquire and develop land for Showell Park.

• In the public safety budgetary arena, the Worcester County Jail wants to replace its HVAC, plumbing and sprinkler, roof and generator systems at a cost of $10 million spread over five years. The department reports the current systems are 30 years old and are costing the county because of their high maintenance needs.

• Wor-Wic Community College asked for $424,000 to renovate the HVAC of the Academic and Administrative building, the Maner Technology Center and a part of the Hazel Student Center, replacing it with a geothermal system. A new academic building is scheduled to begin its design phase in fiscal 2018. The state and Wicomico County will also be contributing to the project. Worcester County’s proposed share is $2.1 million.

 

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