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BOCC directs staff to find alternatives

By AMANDA SCOTT

Staff writer

Even though the county commissioners know renovations to their hearing room in the courthouse are needed, the board expressed discontent this week with a projected $250,000 interior renovation project.

On Tuesday, the Calvert County Board of County Commissioners directed staff to provide alternatives for the interior renovations of the Commissioners’ Hearing Room/Courtroom 4 at the Calvert County Circuit Courthouse in Prince Frederick.

“In this modern day and age, courtroom security, the way the room is set up to protect the various people and to separate the jurors from the public and all that, is required. So, while I hate, hate, hate to spend this kind of money in the fiscal environment we’re in, I don’t really think we have a choice,” Commissioner Susan Shaw (R) said of the presented $253,835 project. “We’ve increased the number of deputies, which increases the number of arrests. We’ve had to increase the state’s attorney’s office to deal with those arrests. Now, there’s a new judge coming down, and the bottom line is, when I look at the line items for the expenditures, it’s not excess in any way at all. … It seems like a very conservative cost estimate.”

The construction cost estimate for the hearing room is $206,025 and is based on the architectural and engineering design drawings and other required work connected to the project, according to a staff memo. This renovation includes office relocations, HVAC replacements and the court’s recording system.

In addition to the hearing room/courtroom renovations, $47,810 is proposed to be spent to modify the Courthouse Square Conference Room, located at the corner of Main and Duke streets in Prince Frederick, for use as the interim commissioners’ hearing room/courtroom while the renovations of the current hearing room/courtroom are completed, according to the staff memo. These renovations will remain in place after the hearing room/courtroom renovations in the courthouse are completed. The staff memo states that the conference room “modifications” will provide the Calvert County Planning Commission and the Calvert County Board of Appeals improved use of the room and will also serve as a backup location for the BOCC and the Circuit Court.

Commissioner Evan Slaughenhoupt (R) said the project is necessary because the governor recently appointed a new circuit court judge.

His concern, he said, is where the funds are coming from because “I doubt, seriously, the governor is going to provide any funding to help.”

On June 18, the commissioners unanimously awarded a $14,500 contract for architectural and engineering services for the design of interior renovations for the Commissioners’ Hearing Room/Courtroom 4. According to the June 18 staff memo to the commissioners, the proposals for that contract were received in early May.

At that time, the commissioners seemed supportive of the renovations, saying that the renovations were necessary for the courthouse and to better accommodate the judges.

But this week, Commissioner Gerald W. “Jerry” Clark (R) said he can’t support spending more than $250,000 on the renovations because future renovations are going to be needed and because court is held in the room now.

“I think the idea of flipping this courtroom around for a short period of time, that to spend a quarter of a million dollars when we all pretty much know that at some point in time in the future we’re going to have to expand some office facilities for the county and we’re probably going to have to move the county out of the courthouse over the next probably three to five years. … Just to take a quarter of a million dollars and say, ‘Well, we don’t have any other choice,’ to me it just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense,” Clark said.

Clark suggested the hearing room/courtroom be retrofitted to make the space work as a courtroom for a short period of time until the county can build another facility in the next three to five years.

“Seems like, to me, we’re just taking a quarter of a million dollars and throwing it down a hole where we can do this more economically,” Clark said. “... So, it just doesn’t make sense to me to spend that kind of money when they’re holding court in here now.”

On Wednesday, during a brief phone interview, Clark said he didn’t change his mind from when this project was previously brought up but it was the price tag that got him.

“Before, we didn’t have a number and we didn’t have specifics,” he said. He explained that he just wants to see alternatives with pricing to make sure he is making the best decision. “I just want to see the whole picture.”

Commissioners’ President Pat Nutter (R) said he, too, was going to oppose the project because he thinks there are other options, “and to spend that much money to redo this, for us to come in, I think like Commissioner Clark said, for us to have to move out again, I think there are some other options.”

Director of General Services Wilson Freeland explained to the commissioners the renovations, as presented, would remain, and there are no plans to hold a jury trial in the hearing room/courtroom.

There were two options presented to the court, Freeland said, adding that the other option “was some more simpler modifications, but it would have required some additional security resources.”

Clark pointed out that the commissioners haven’t seen the other option.

“That’s correct. ’Cause the court wanted to go with option B,” Freeland said.

Clark responded, “Well, does the court have a quarter of a million dollars to do it? What’s the difference in cost between option A and Option B?”

Freeland said, “We have not planned it out. I can tell you it’s significantly less.”

Shaw said she believes the county will be paying for the renovations whether the county moves out of the courthouse or not, even though the board may hate spending the money.

“It ain’t a matter of hating to spend the money,” Clark responded. “We’ve got a projected $10 million deficit in the next budget year, and now we have a $250,000 project that’s parachuting in, in the middle of the budget cycle.”

In other business, the commissioners:

• Unanimously approved to close the public record and adopt the Calvert County Emergency Operations Plan and Emergency Support Functions;

• Unanimously approved a lease with Verizon Wireless that would permit Verizon to establish a telecommunications tower along Little Cove Point Road in Lubsy. As part of the lease, Verizon’s rental payment includes both a monetary payment to the county and reserved space on the tower for the county’s use at no additional charge to the county;

• Unanimously approved to the close the public record and adopt a text amendment to include a private water and sewer system for the Shoppes at Apple Greene in Dunkirk to the Calvert County Water and Sewerage Plan. Planned infrastructure for water and sewer in the county must be incorporated within the Water and Sewerage Comprehensive Plan before the Maryland Department of the Environment issues permits; and

• Reviewed the Calvert County Compensation Review Board’s recommended salaries for the commissioners’ president, the county commissioners, the Calvert County sheriff, the Calvert County treasurer, the chief judge of Calvert County Orphan’s Court and the judges of the Calvert County Orphan’s Court.

ascott@somdnews.com