SALISBURY – County officials approved a $172 million capital improvement plan last week.
The Wicomico County Council voted unanimously June 1 to adopt an amended Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) for fiscal years 2022-2026.
The capital planning document – which outlines future capital projects, their costs, and funding sources – features more than $172 million in proposed projects over the next five years, including $19.6 million for a new public safety building, $28.8 million for a renovation and addition at Mardela Middle and High School and $13 million for new cell construction at the county landfill, to name a few.
The CIP that was adopted this week also includes funding for a master plan and phase-one park development at Connelly Mill, which the county purchased in 2019.
While the county is currently using property to take fill dirt for the county’s landfill, officials have begun looking at opportunities for future recreational use at the site. The CIP includes $100,000 in fiscal year 2022 to develop a master plan and $1.8 million in fiscal year 2024 for the first phase of development.
While they did not oppose the development of a park at Connelly Mill, council members this week shared their concerns regarding how the project would come to fruition.
In April, Recreation, Parks and Tourism Director Steve Miller came before the council seeking a Program Open Space land conversion from the undeveloped West Metro Core property on Levin Dashiell Road to the Connelly Mill property.
The transfer, he explained, would allow the county to develop Connelly Mill into a public recreation space using lease monies from the West Metro Core. While the county purchased the West Metro Core in 2009 with plans to develop a public sports complex, those plans never materialized and for the last 12 years the site has been leased to a local farmer.
Late last month, the council voted to postpone the land conversion to give officials more time to discuss the matter. Several council members said they supported Connelly Mill’s development, but didn’t want to see the county abandon plans for the West Metro Core property.
“The Metro Core, we have an income-producing property where we can convert that money to Connelly Mill,” Councilman Joe Holloway said at the time. “We don’t have to give up West Metro land. It can be used in the future.”
Just before the council was set to vote on the proposed CIP last week, Councilwoman Nicole Acle made a motion to amend the planning document, eliminating references that the county’s share of funding for the Connelly Mill property could come from the potential sale of the West Metro Core and funds accumulated from years of farming on the land.
“I don’t want this in the CIP with the assumption that’s going to happen,” she said.
Councilman John Cannon agreed with Acle’s reasoning, noting the council had yet to decide the future of the West Metro Core property. He noted, however, that the capital planning document was just that, a plan.
“I would be inclined to keep it in, simply because of the fact it does not hold the county or council to those expenses or that plan as a whole,” he said. “It simply says we agree that we’re going to look into that possibility.”
After further discussion, the council voted 4-3, with Cannon and Councilmen Josh Hastings and Bill McCain opposed, to amend the CIP to remove references of a potential sale of the West Metro Core property. The council then voted unanimously to adopt the CIP as amended.
“We’ve been 10 years without building a park down there, and I’ve been getting phone calls from people in that area wanting that park,” Council President Larry Dodd said. “If we sell that park, then they’ll never get a park.”
In a work session following Tuesday’s adoption of the CIP, Miller presented the council with the possibility of a partial land conversion. He said the option would leave a portion of the West Metro property under a Program Open Space restriction, and convert the remainder to the Connelly Mill property. It would also mean the county could using funds to develop master plans for both sites.
“It could move both projects on a forward path,” he said. “I think it could be a good option for the residents.”
After further discussion, the council agreed to hold another work session to discuss a partial conversion of the Program Open Space restriction.