CIP Approved Without School Administration Building

CIP Approved Without School Administration Building
File photo by Charlene Sharpe

SNOW HILL – County officials approved a five-year capital improvement plan after removing funding for a school system administration building this week.

The Worcester County Commissioners voted 4-3 to approve the fiscal year 2025 through 2029 capital improvement plan (CIP) on Tuesday. A $37 million new central office for Worcester County Public Schools was removed from the plan.

“I believe, with repairs and upkeep of that building that could be another 10 years before we had to do it,” Commissioner Caryn Abbott said.

Lynn Wright, the county’s senior budget accountant, presented the commissioners on Tuesday with the FY2025-2029 CIP. The requested plan included projects totaling not quite $219 million over the five-year period. Wright said that $40 million, or 18%, of the project funding would come from assigned funds while nearly $128 million, or 58%, would come from bonds. The remainder would come from grants, matching funds, state loans or user fees.

Wright stressed that the CIP was a planning document.

“Inclusion of a project in the plan does not constitute a guarantee of funding from the county,” she said.

Commissioner Joe Mitrecic questioned the inclusion of $5 million for broadband in the plan.

“We haven’t had an update from Talkie or any of the people that are doing installs…,” he said. “I think we need at least semiannual updates from people before we start putting money in the CIP.”

Chief Administrative Officer Weston Young said an update was scheduled for January. He added that the $1 million a year included in the CIP was flexible but was included so that the county would have money for matching grants when it was needed.

“You all will approve whatever grants we go to partner with,” he said. “We definitely want our money to go as far as possible.”

Abbott said she’d like to see the $37 million school system administration building removed from the plan. the school system wants to replace the current central office, which is the old Worcester High School, built in 1952, with a new structure.

Mitrecic said just because something was in the plan didn’t mean it would be funded. His motion to approve the entire CIP, including the school system building, failed with a 3-4 vote.

“I’d just like to remind my colleagues here this is a wish list,” Mitrecic said. “Every one of these projects would have to be voted on at a separate time and place. To include some of these things, I’m not exactly thrilled about the $5 million for the broadband but it is part of a wish list for the county so I include it. The central office is on the wish list for the board of education doesn’t mean we’re ever going to do it. I don’t think striking it off completely is the right thing to do. I think it’s part of their wish list just like any other department’s wish list.”

Commissioner Chip Bertino asked if the new administration building was on the school system’s CIP.

Young said it was not.

“Their CIP is meant for the state,” he said. “It would be projects the state would fund. It’s highly unlikely the state would fund an administrative building.”

A motion to approve the CIP without the school system administrative building in it passed 4-3 with Mitrecic, Commissioner Diana Purnell and Commissioner Ted Elder opposed.

“That building they have there is older than half the buildings in the whole county, private or government,” Elder said. “To put it on the wish list is just the first step.”

Following the meeting, Bertino said he’d supported removing the school system’s administrative building because it wasn’t likely to be funded in the next five years with the variety of other projects underway.

“The CIP is a planning document,” he said. “The reality is in the next five years it’s very unlikely we’re going to move forward on a new administrative building.”

Commissioner Eric Fiori said the county had other projects that took precedence.

“There are so many more pressing issues such as building Buckingham, our teachers being significantly underpaid, as well as the support staff, and bus contractors,” he said in a Facebook post. “To allocate $37 million for a new administration building for a five-year plan, I just have to disagree with it, and I needed that to be struck off the CIP so we can move some of these funds over to getting our teachers the pay they deserve.”

He said that when he voted earlier this year to approve a maintenance of effort budget for the school system, he emphasized the lack of transparency and accuracy within the school system’s budget.

“To my point, a very recent discovery by an independent auditor of a $1 million surplus due to previously inaccurate financial records,” Fiori said. “This was just discovered. Yet, there were to be many cuts due to a perceived lack of funding. It’s not a lack of funding problem, it’s a lack of accurate accounting. My primary concern is ensuring fair compensation for dedicated teachers, support staff, and bus drivers. I advocate not only for transparency from the Board of Education but also for accurate financial accounting to guarantee that funds are allocated appropriately.”

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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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.