Capital Project Plan Includes $37M For New Bennett Middle

SALISBURY — After generating so much controversy in the community, it came as a surprise Tuesday when a public hearing for the Wicomico County 2013 Capital Budget and Proposed 2013-2017 Capital Improvement Program (CIP) came and went without much fanfare.

Though filled with a variety of projects and budget items for the coming years, the centerpiece and most widely debated piece of the CIP and Capital Budget is funding for a new James M. Bennett Middle School (BMS). The CIP calls for $37,489,223 worth of Wicomico funding for the project.

For months, there have been two passionate and clearly divided sides on the issue. On one hand, there has been a strong movement by members of the community in support of the school, spearheaded by groups like Parents in Action, who have had members present at most meetings where a new BMS has been discussed, including the meeting Tuesday.

On the other side of the aisle, there has been a vocal collection of residents opposed to the cost of the building during a time when Wicomico is struggling financially and still faces years with no clear economic recovery in sight.

“Just let it be up to the people,” said resident John Palmer during the hearing.

Palmer suggested that the County Council put funding for BMS to a public vote, which he argued would take the responsibility from their shoulders and place it on the citizens.

Resident Kay Gibson was one of the other few speakers to come forward concerning the budget. She asked if the state funding listed for BMS was all “committed.”

Though not all state funding is committed in the budget, Councilwoman Stevie Prettyman explained that Wicomico will push to receive as much as possible.

“There are some options we have here,” she told Gibson.

Beyond that, neither the council nor the public had much more to say about funding for BMS being included in the CIP, despite both sides speaking for hours on it since last year.

The hearing closed quickly and the plan is set to lay out the first year of projects for projects like road work, public safety and education beginning July 1.

The CIP also “serves as a guide and an indicator of what future capital requirements are likely to be,” in the next several years, according to Wicomico Executive Rick Pollitt.