Pollitt’s Budget Aims To Address County Infrastructure

SALISBURY – Wicomico County Executive Rick Pollitt proposed a $52 million capital budget along with a five-year Capital Improvement Plan last week that the County Council will begin reviewing early next year.
Last Tuesday Wicomico County Executive Rick Pollitt submitted his proposed capital budget for the fiscal year 2015 (FY15) beginning July 1, 2014 and ending June 30, 2015 and a proposed capital spending program for fiscal years 2015-2019 to the County Council.
“You have heard me say a number of times Wicomico County, particularly in the most recent years, has not done a good job in taking care of what I call our ‘stuff’, or when it comes to investing county funds in our infrastructure,” Pollitt began. “Wicomico County has needs across the board particularly in our schools, but also in our roads, public buildings and the things we want to do with the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Implementation Plan. We put together a budget for FY15 that is affordable, and a way I would describe as aspirational.”
Pollitt’s proposed capital improvement budget recommends a bond sale in FY15 in the amount of $21.1 million. Of this, $5.7 million would be dedicated to complete funding for Bennett Middle School (BMS) construction with the balance allocated to other projects.
Pollitt’s proposed CIP includes a list of over 50 existing, new and emerging general government projects, including new buildings at Wor-Wic Community College, the purchase of a new State’s Attorney building at the price of nearly $4 million and improvements for Sheriff’s Office, Emergency Services, Corrections, Health Department, Wicomico Public Library, Circuit Court Complex, Old Courthouse, Public Works, Airport, Recreation, Parks and Tourism and the Solid Waste Enterprise.
One of the largest projects on the list is a waste to energy gasification plant. Pollitt’s proposal explains, “as the current landfill site only has an estimated 34 years of capacity left and the State of Maryland has a requirement that all counties divert 60 percent of municipal solid waste (MSW) from landfills by 2020.”
A Waste to Energy Plant would allow all MSW to be processed into synthetic natural gas that can be used to power engines that would drive electric generators. The electricity would be sold to the area electricity grid. Such a waste-to-energy plant would produce enough energy to run the operation and sell enough electricity to power 10,000 homes.
The gasification process, which is completely different from incineration, reduces the volume of MSW to 5 percent of initial volume with approximately 70 percent of the residual being metals that can be sold to recycling companies.
A waste-to-energy plant would reduce the annual landfill operating costs by 50-70 percent, extend the service life of the existing landfill site by 60-80 years, and extend the time before the next cell construction is needed by 5-10 years. Such a fundamental change in the methodology of handling MSW would also reduce large capital equipment replacement costs.
The concept of using waste-to-energy through gasification is currently being evaluated from a technology, regulatory and financial perspective. There will be minor consulting and study expenses associated with the development and evaluation of a business plan that will be paid from the FY14 Solid Waste operating budget.
A decision to proceed with any major expenditures toward this concept will likely part of the FY15 operating budget process with major investment decisions discussed during that time. The total project cost could be in the vicinity of $75 million.
The idea is presented in the CIP because it represents a major departure from current operating concepts and will require significant investment from the Solid Waste enterprise operation.