SALISBURY – Officials came before the county council this week seeking an additional $7.7 million for the construction of a new public safety building.
In a special meeting held Tuesday, the Wicomico County Council voted to approve a resolution amending the fiscal year 2022 capital improvement plan and fiscal year 2022 budget to allow $7,715,000 in additional funding for the construction of a new public safety building. While the new facility was budgeted at nearly $28 million, Sheriff Mike Lewis noted that inflation had increased construction bids.
“With the lowest bid, we’d need an additional $7.7 million to get this building underway,” he said. “We have been told by those that we’ve been working with, every day we wait this figure is going to steadily climb. That’s why we are here requesting the additional $7.7 million.”
In the fall of 2018, a feasibility study was completed for a new public safety building in Wicomico. And that November, the county purchased an eight-acre site on which to build the new facility. Since that time, officials have been working with architects and engineers to bring the project to fruition, but many on the council have shared their concerns regarding the scope of the project an its $28 million price tag.
Lewis told council members this week factors such as the COVID-19 outbreak and inflation have contributed to yet another increase in the cost of the public safety building. Finance Director Pam Oland said the lowest bid the county received for the project was $33.3 million.
“The range of bids was from $33.3 million to $37 million, from highly qualified companies …,” she said. “As such, we believe the company we would like to award this to is a responsible and responsive bidder and can complete the project at the amount we are suggesting.”
Oland said if council members were to approve the additional $7.7 million in funding, half would come from prior year fund balance and half would come from American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding.
“It would have no debt impact and it would have the ability for us to, if this legislation passes, immediately make the change to the budget and encumber funds for the project,” she said.
Purchasing Agent Nick Rice told council members this week the county received five bids for the project, but would need to approve the additional funding to secure the lowest contract.
“It’s important to state the scope has not change,” he added. “We’re seeing this 18% across the board in construction contracts and inflation.”
Councilman Bill McCain said he supported the project, but was concerned about the scope.
“A lot of projects, when you get cost escalations like this, you change the scope of the project,” he said. “I’m not directing this at you, but that has never occurred anywhere in this process.”
Oland, however, noted that the project scope had to meet state and federal requirements for a public safety building.
This building is projected to have over a 50-year lifespan too,” Rice added.
When asked when construction would begin, General Services Supervisor Pate Matthews said site work could begin in the coming months.
“I don’t think it would be much more than two or three months, depending on availability,” he said.
After further discussion, the council voted 6-0, with Councilwoman Nicole Acle absent, to approve the $7.7 million in additional funding for the public safety building.
The county council this week also voted to establish a Law Enforcement Review Board, required through the Maryland Police Accountability Act of 2021. The legislative bill, passed in a 6-0 vote, included several amendments and discussions on active shooter training and eligibility criteria for Wicomico County Police Accountability Board members.
“This is state law, not our bill,” said Councilman Josh Hastings. “We’re trying to put together our own version of what the state has told us we have to do. That’s how we’re addressing it.”