Calvert County’s new Board of County Commissioners got its first peak at staff’s recommended six-year capital improvement plan during a work session Tuesday. The plan includes funding for two major school projects, a county office building and more.
Department of Finance and Budget staff provided a high-level overview of the initial round of project requests under consideration for capital funding for fiscal years 2020-2025 and sought the board’s input. County department heads were on hand to field questions.
The multi-year plan is nearly $351.7 million, proposed within a balanced budget, with fiscal 2020 alone accounting for more than 10 percent of the plan’s funding needs, with a fiscal impact of $39.5 million. The plan is comprised of both general fund projects ($293,277,219) and enterprise projects ($58,399,855).
“Enterprise funds are financially self-sustaining. All enterprise debt is repaid by the profits of the enterprise fund,” Capital Projects Analyst Veronica Atkinson said.
Education initiatives account for 30 percent of proposed CIP expenditures, followed by public safety, enterprise funds and public facilities.
There are nine general fund CIP projects costing over $6 million each, to include: a transportation project for the Prince Frederick Loop Road at Fox Run, Dares Beach Road and Armory Road ($8,375,000); Northern Middle School renovation ($45,405,000); and Beach Elementary’s replacement ($30,930,000).
“We had originally, for FY20, projected $1,750,000 and that was pending purchase of property. [Director of School Construction Schuchita Warner] has pretty much come to the conclusion that they will not have to do that. They have three or four feasibility models that keep the school on the premises,” Atkinson said with regard to the Beach Elementary project.
Commissioner Steve Weems (R) asked about percentage split between the state and county for school construction projects. Atkinson said the state’s portion of Beach Elementary is projected right now at $13,574,000, and is reflected in fiscal 2022. The county’s piece is approximately $17 million.
Finance and Budget Director Tim Hayden said the state typically pays 52 or 54 percent of costs, but they do not contribute to feasibility studies or equipment. Commissioners’ President Thomas “Tim” Hutchins (R) asked for a breakdown of the county’s and state’s share on all projects in the future.
Commissioner Mike Hart (R) asked if the county has reached out to Chesapeake Beach or North Beach for money to help fund the school project.
“Nobody wants to talk about it, but somebody has to pay for it,” Hart said, to which Hayden said a year or two ago there was a conversation with one of the Twin Beaches’ mayors about funding.
“That changed with the political swings, but maybe we can get him back on that same political swing set,” Hart added.
The second most expensive effort is a new County Administration Building planned for Armory Square ($34,708,000). Estimated at a total cost of $50 million, the county building was initially included in the six-year plan in fiscal 2018, with financing spread over multiple years. Now nearly $17.3 million in public facilities expenses is proposed in fiscal 2020.
“The county administration building was forward funded in FY19 with enough funds to cover concept plans, schematic design, design development and the construction documents,” Atkinson said, noting earlier the construction debt was realigned to fiscal 2021 through 2022.
A Calvert County Detention Center improvement and expansion project totaling $20.6 million prompted Hart to ask for an update on past projects to improve safety and security at the center.
“We are currently ready to go out to bid after April 1 for the security fence, access stairs, and an access road to the detention center. We are currently in decision for additional program space, which will go out to construction,” Capital Projects Supervisor C.J. Jones said, detailing multiple phases of projects to include booking space, plumbing, interior security and the upcoming repositioning of the perimeter fence for guard safety.
“That’s not your grandfather’s jail down there anymore. There’s some real deal people down there and I want to make sure those guys are safe,” Hart said.
Also on the high end are building replacement projects for the Solomons Volunteer Rescue Squad and Fire Department and the St. Leonard Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad ($12,950,000).
“For these projects that are further out and you have estimates in place, do you update those estimates at any point in time? [Because] you’re looking four and five years out,” Commissioner Earl “Buddy” Hance (R) asked, out of concern for the potential rise in construction costs for projects like the Prince Frederick VFD that has lingered years after it was initially budgeted.
Jones said the county uses a construction consumer price index to calculate the change in costs, and as the county moves “forward each year, we re-update the numbers.”
Within the enterprise fund, the most expensive CIP projects are the Prince Frederick Wastewater Treatment Plant upgrade ($26.7 million) and the Solomons WWTP upgrade ($11 million).
Atkinson said $74.8 million in CIP requests have been deferred beyond fiscal 2025 due to financial constraints.
The prior board of commissioners began fielding staff requests for funding of fiscal 2020 capital projects in November of last year. To fund the proposed projects, the county sought $10,320,000 in bonding authority from state legislators. During Tuesday’s work session, the board discussed debt affordability.
A local debt bonding bill was filed Feb. 6 by the Calvert County delegation. A hearing on the bill will be held Feb. 19 before the House Appropriations Committee, of which Del. Michael Jackson (D-Calvert, Prince George’s) is a member.
Last month, the Calvert County Planning Commission conducted an annual review of the county’s proposed CIP and deemed it consistent with the Calvert County Comprehensive Plan and town center master plans.
The commissioners may request that staff schedule work sessions on any projects they wish to further explore. Next steps include a public hearing March 19 on staff’s recommended budget. The commissioners will hold a budget hearing for their proposed final budget, tentatively set for May 21. Adoption of the commissioners’ budget is tentatively scheduled for June 4.