First of two articles
Commissioners’ President Thomas “Tim” Hutchins (R) held a briefing on Thursday on the first 200 days of the Calvert County Board of Commissioners, and reviewed the activities of each department within the county government.
“It is likely one of the most significant pieces of legislation that this board will produce in its tenure,” Hutchins said, reading a letter to staff thanking them after the adoption of the Calvert County Comprehensive Plan Update for 2040.
“By the nature of this strategic initiative, it will guide the county for two decades, as with any strategic initiative each subordinate element will require just as much focus to map it out — map out the individual objectives of that plan,” Hutchins added, referring to the rewriting of the county zoning ordinance and each town center’s master plan update.
Planning and Zoning Director Mark Willis said the comprehensive plan sets the vision for the county moving forward, “but it’s the zoning ordinance that really brings it to life.”
Willis said the zoning ordinance rewrite could take a year to 18 months to complete, and that the firm Parsons Brinckerhoff, which worked on the comprehensive plan, is already working on the zoning ordinance rewrite.
The board president said other parts of the comprehensive plan, such as the transportation plan and policy documents regarding water and sewer resources, will require more frequent reviews than in the past.
Hutchins discussed the route the BOCC was taking with the county administration building.
He said there is a need to reexamine the use of the historic armory and analysis of the location options in Prince Frederick for the placement of a new “county executive building.”
“We decided to take a strong look at where and what had been done about the decision making,” Hutchins said, leaning on the guidance of Department of General Services Director Wilson Freeland.
Hutchins said the old Armory building is a very solid structure and remains so with a lot of work being done — including the installation of impact-resistant windows — before the state turned it over to the county.
“We believe there’s a lot we can get done there, looking toward public-private partnerships, if possible,” Hutchins said.
Hutchins clarified that he does not envision the P3 being like the animal shelter partnership where the contractor built the facility, leased it to the county and then the county purchased it.
“We find the location. We’ve got bonding for the building itself … and we’ll build a building,” Hutchins said.
Hutchins said they are getting close in their discussion but could not reveal plans to date.
Also not currently available for discussion was the county’s plan for the development of Armory Square, the old middle school. Hutchins said the project is under negotiations and that he cannot presently reveal details or provide a timeline, but the public will be included in once negotiations are completed.
The Gov. Thomas Johnson Bridge is a top priority, according to Hutchins. He said the project needs federal funding as it is a Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security issue with a military installation and gas and nuclear plants in the region.
Hutchins highlighted departmental accomplishments to include the launching of the county’s new government website and agricultural web site under the leadership of Department of Communications & Media Relations Director Linda Vassallo. The county government website’s organization and “look and feel” were revised in response to citizens’ input.
Fiscally, he was proud of the reaffirming of the AAA bond rating for a fourth year in a row and credited Finance and Budget Director Tim Hayden and his staff.
Hutchins spoke of the board’s adoption of a $312.9 million balanced budget for the fiscal year 2020 and noted the public school system received nearly half of the budget, at 47%. Countywide, there were 46 new positions created with most in the public safety arena.
“Twenty-five new career EMS positions came out of the initiative … to bridge the gap between the volunteer system and a career system in the EMS service,” Hutchins said, noting it is a good plan but will watch it develop before planning next steps.
Hutchins credited Jennifer Moreland, director of the department of community resources, and her staff with taking the lead in establishing services to assist families directly impacted by the Chesapeake Beach fire in April.
Community resources also established a new countywide housing diversity task force made up of other county agencies and advocacy groups to set objectives and benchmarks for housing.
“We have to look at what we have available for young people,” Hutchins said, noting provisions need to be made for military and seniors as well. “Fifty-five and older communities are an absolute must. We are an aging population. By 2030, we’ll have a quarter of the county’s population over 65 years of age.”
The BOCC is leaning on the expertise of County Attorney John Norris to address nearly 50 open and active code violation cases where resolution has not been successful outside the court system.
“We try to get the behavioral change instead of the penalty,” Hutchins said regarding the cases.
Hutchins said when he came into office, there were three things that were important to him “economic development, economic development and economic development.”
“It’s a critical piece because we have two energy giants here that take up a huge piece and provide the revenue and the accessible base for this county,” Hutchins said. “We can’t just take for granted that that will be here always.”
Hutchins applauded Department of Economic Development Director Kelly Robertson-Slagle and staff for continuing efforts to include instituting the federal opportunity zones program in the county, as well as developing a relationship with the College of Southern Maryland on entrepreneurial programs and workforce development efforts to help diversify the local community.
Hutchins said the county must press the issue for economic development in the “right place” and type and said, “this generation is about technology, and we’ve got to be able to think out of the box and look out of the box not just 20 years, but 40 years.”