With about 80 percent of the economy of St. Mary’s County dependent on Patuxent River Naval Air Station, diversification is needed, the county commissioners told the St. Mary’s County Chamber of Commerce at Tuesday’s State of the County luncheon. And studies on how to diversify the local economy are under way, the commissioners said.
While the federal government is facing another possible shutdown next month, Commissioner Todd Morgan (R) said, “our local economy has gradually squeezed down over the last few months. Whether it be furloughs, sequesters, gate closings and a myriad of other ... sanctions.
“The commissioners remain very concerned about the diversification of our economy. We’re going to lead this effort and it’s not going to be driven by one organization or person,” he said.
“The constituency as a whole has to recognize economic diversification as a whole,” he said Wednesday. It can’t just hinge upon the defense contractor community. “What can you do in the north and central county? Everything just stays focused on what happens in Lexington Park and defense contractor community,” he said.
“There’s a lot of people out there with a lot of good ideas and they need to come forward,” he said at the luncheon.
The commissioners funded the Southern Maryland Navy Alliance $75,000 to create a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats report to better position St. Mary’s should there be downsizing at Patuxent River Naval Air Station.
St. Mary’s County government is also conducting a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy, which just got $49,000 in federal funding. A consultant still needs to be selected, Morgan said.
At the same time, the Navy is working through its Joint Land Use Study which involves several Maryland counties and the Northern Neck of Virginia to ensure local activities don’t interfere with Pax River’s work.
“We need to keep lines of communication open,” said Commission President Jack Russell (D). “I am a proponent of everyone getting a piece of the bone” to set the stage in Southern Maryland for the next 10 to 15 years.
The county’s agricultural tourism economy needs to be bolstered, Morgan said, along with more services for senior citizens.
Commissioner Larry Jarboe (R) noted advertisements featuring Texas governor Rick Perry inviting Maryland businesses to the Lone Star State. “Texas is not going to be a good place to run a tourism business on the Chesapeake Bay. You cannot visit the Chesapeake Bay from Texas,” Jarboe said.
Morgan said there are numerous issues that need to be worked out in the update of the Lexington Park Development District Plan, which is heading to the commissioners table. “Nothing is set in stone. It’s a work in progress,” he said. The St. Mary’s County Planning Commission is working on the plan now. When work on the Lexington Park plan is completed, a study of Charlotte Hall’s future is next. Morgan said not everyone has to hook into central water or sewer there, but “we can’t grow without it.”
Asked what he thought were the most important projects to finish in his second term, Russell said, “the bottleneck at the end of Great Mills Road and Route 5.” Del. John Bohanan (D-St. Mary’s) announced last week that $5 million has been built into the state budget to complete a study on that section of state roads.
Russell also called FDR Boulevard a very important project. The latest section is being built between Great Mills Road and South Shangri-La Drive next to the Lexington Park library. The overall plan is to build the road from St. Andrew’s Road in California to Chancellor’s Run Road, Pegg Road and then Great Mills Road.
Morgan said there may have to be more discussions about either upgrading the county jail or building a new one. The commissioners’ current plan is to renovate it without expanding its 230-bed capacity at a cost of $9.5 million, instead of $35 million for a new facility with double the capacity.
The commissioners have funded almost $10 million for the renovation of Spring Ridge Middle School and a new elementary school in Leonardtown will be constructed soon, Capt. Walter Francis Duke Elementary School.