Unknowns Lead To Capital Project Timing Revisions

SALISBURY – How and when capital projects would be funded was discussed at length last week as county officials presented a summary of changes to the Capital Improvement Program for fiscal years 2020-2024.

In a work session last week, Director of Administration Wayne Strausburg and Assistant Director of Administration Weston Young presented the Wicomico County Council with changes to the capital planning document originally submitted in December.

After discussing at length the challenges of funding future projects, the county council in March voted to extend the date for adopting the Capital Improvement Program (CIP) to June 4.

County officials at the time said the extension would allow them to reexamine capital projects proposed in the CIP and account for state legislation – mainly the $15 minimum wage and the implementation of recommendations from the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education (Kirwan Commission) – that would have an impact on the county’s budget.

Back on the table for discussion last week, Young told the council that county staff reviewed the CIP and had made changed to funding sources and timeframes for several projects.

“We have since revised it during the budget process,” he said. “In some cases, we’ve proposed using existing pay-go as a funding source, as well as we’ve pushed some projects out a year.”

For the Wicomico County Board of Education, for example, the county initially proposed $9 million in fiscal years 2020 and 2021 and nearly $2 million in fiscal year 2022 to build a new Beaver Run Elementary School. Now, the planning document includes $7 million for fiscal years 2020 and 2021 and nearly $6 million in fiscal year 2022.

“We are not proposing $9 million in the first two years,” Young said. “We are proposing $7 million and adding $4 million to the last year. It spreads it out more evenly over three years.”

Young also noted a study and planning project for an extensive renovation at Mardela Middle and High School had been removed.

“Until we know how the dust is going to settle on [Kirwan], we have reservations about committing to another building and having it in the pipeline,” he said. “The official statement is we have put the Mardela Middle and High project on hold until we have a better idea as to what Kirwan, the $15 minimum wage and a potential recession is going to do.”

Officials also proposed moving several projects – including a new cell at the county landfill, the second half of a Public Safety Building project and several improvements at the Salisbury airport – to out years in the county’s planning document and adding other projects – including the construction of an adaptive baseball field at the Henry S. Parker Athletic Complex and the third phase of a Westside Collector project – to fiscal year 2020.

Most of the amendments relating to the CIP involved changes to the funding source of several projects. In many instances, county staff recommended reallocating existing pay-go (or pay-as-you-go) money from completed or abandoned projects to pay for others.

“Instead of using new FY20 revenue to pay for it, we reallocated existing pay-go from other projects,” Young said.

Members of the council, however, questioned where the existing money originated and how the unused money is moved from one department project to another.

“For all we know, we could have a project for $400,000 and it turns out to be $200,000 but you slide that money over to another project that’s now $600,000 instead of $400,000,” Council President John Cannon said. “It’s hard for us as a body of oversight to determine exactly how much we are spending for what and where the overages might be.”

Young suggesting providing the council with a document outlining where the existing money originated.

“I think it might be helpful to have a list of where this existing pay-go is coming from, what projects it’s tied to,” he said. “But we are still seeking your approval to reallocate this money.”

While he applauded staff for taking conservative measures and adjusting the CIP, Cannon said he was concerned the planning document presented to the public in November would be drastically different than the one to be adopted in June. He also highlighted the broad timeframe laid out in the charter for adopting the CIP.

“For the individuals that came to the public hearing back in November, it’s not the same CIP that it was back then,” he said. “I wonder what the significance is of going through this long process if it’s never the same from one month to the next.”

Councilman Marc Kilmer agreed.

“I think it’s time to have a charter review committee formed,” he said. “That might be something to look at.”

Council Administrator Laura Hurley noted the council has time to consider hold another public hearing on the revised CIP before its adoption in June.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.