Commissioners Question Why Sports Complex In Capital Plan Without A Site

Commissioners Question Why Sports Complex In Capital Plan Without A Site
File Photo

BERLIN – Though a site hasn’t yet been acquired, funding for a sports complex has been included in Worcester County’s latest capital plan.

A sports complex, a new public safety facility and broadband infrastructure are among the projects included in the capital improvement plan (CIP) staff presented to the Worcester County Commissioners Tuesday. While a public hearing date was set for Dec. 7, Commissioners Chip Bertino and Jim Bunting objected to the inclusion of the sports complex and public safety facility.

“Certain things, when you do put them on the CIP plan, they get legs and take off and they’re expected to happen,” Bunting said.

Kim Reynolds, the county’s senior budget accountant, told the commissioners the fiscal year 2023-2027 CIP, a planning document, totaled $202 million. She said bond rating agencies would look at the CIP as a financial planning tool for the county.

“The requested plan helps anticipate future financial needs of the county and is merely a planning document at this date,” Reynolds said. “Inclusion of a project in the plan does not constitute a guarantee of funding from the county.”

Bertino voiced several concerns with the CIP, noting that two major projects — the sports complex at $15.6 million and a public safety building at $32.6 million — hadn’t been reviewed or discussed by the commissioners prior to their inclusion in the CIP. He also suggested the county look for grants regarding improvements at the commercial harbor, which is a $1.5 million project in the plan, and that the county get clarification regarding the spray irrigation project in Ocean Pines that’s included in the plan.

“There are some concerns among the community,” he said. “We need to work through those issues before we say this is going to go to a bond.”

Bertino questioned whether the public safety building should be included in the CIP, as the commissioners as a whole hadn’t discussed it.

“It’s a fairly big ask. I believe before it gets on the plan we should’ve had the opportunity to understand why we actually need one,” he said. “Maybe others can answer that but that’s never been presented.”

He said his other major concern was the sports complex, which is listed in the CIP at $15,584,381. When the concept was last discussed publicly, Tom Perlozzo, at that time the county’s director of recreation, parks, tourism and economic development, said Program Open Space (POS) funds could be used for the sports complex. He indicated that funding could cover 90% of the project cost.

Bertino asked if POS funding could in fact be used for the sports complex.

Chief Administrative Officer Weston Young said it could be used but not for the full cost.

“What we’ve put in the CIP is what we think we would need for acquisition and that involves basically bonding a large amount,” Young said.

Bertino said potentially spending $15 million on the project was not what the commissioners had discussed in January.

“Regardless if we think this project is a good one or not, now it’s on the backs of taxpayers and it wasn’t when we were talking about it in January or even in May, so I have concerns about that,” he said.

He made a motion to set a public hearing date for the CIP but to remove the sports complex and public safety building from the plan. Bunting seconded the motion.

“As Commissioner Bertino said the sports complex was never presented that we’d take taxpayer money and build it and operate it,” he said. “That’s the way it looks right now. And it’s a bad time for the public safety building.”

The motion failed with just two votes, however, as Commissioners Bud Church, Diana Purnell and Josh Nordstrom said they wanted to see the items left in the CIP for discussion. A motion to set the public hearing on the CIP for Dec. 7 passed 5-2, with Bunting and Bertino opposed.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

Alternative Text

Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.