Frederick County denies rumors of charter renovation costs -- Gazette.Net


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Although Frederick County Board of Commissioners’ President Blaine R. Young discounts speculation that the switch to charter government in 2014 will require extensive renovation to government offices, several commissioners question whether more space will be needed eventually.

“I don’t know who’s telling people this, but no renovations are needed,” Young said, responding to persistent rumors that the transition to charter government approved by voters in the November election would mean $1 million in renovations to Winchester Hall, the county’s headquarters on Church Street in downtown Frederick.

Young (R), who said he heard the rumor from at least 10 people, suspects charter opponents may be behind it, although he hasn’t been able to trace it to any person or group.

Commissioner David Gray (R), who opposed the charter proposal, said he hadn’t heard anyone talking about renovations being needed before the election and didn’t know the source of the rumors.

Gray said Winchester Hall had heating, air-conditioning and other upgrades recently, and he believes the 167-year-old building has enough office space to house the new county executive, county council and their staffs.

The executive and seven-member council are scheduled to take office in December 2014.

Both Gray and Young said that although no renovations are planned, the new executive and council would have the power to make changes once they took office.

Gray said he believes that conflicts with the county executive could spur council members to seek additional staff to work for them.

Commissioners’ Vice President C. Paul Smith (R), who said he doesn’t remember hearing the renovation rumor until after the election, doesn’t think the transition has been thought through.

Smith opposed the charter because he believed it would cost more and create bigger government. At some point, the council will need its own staff to gather information, he said.

“There’s no way this council is going to operate without some staff,” Smith said.

The county has set up a committee to oversee the transition that will begin meeting in January.

There may be some nominal costs associated with the transition for desks, furniture or other items, but nowhere near the costs that have been suggested, said County Manager Lori Depies, who heads the transition committee.

The county hasn’t allocated any money yet for the transition, she said.

The committee also includes the county attorney, budget officer, finance director, human resources director, director of community development, administrative officer and legislative coordinator.

Depies said that no renovations to Winchester Hall would be needed to accommodate charter government. The current floor plan for the transition includes two offices for executive assistants for the council, she said.

The council area could also accommodate cubicles for several more staff members.

“We can fit all of the [charter] structure within the footprint that we have now,” Depies said.

rmarshall@gazette.net