Panel sets hearing on capital spending plan

MILFORD – The Caroline County Planning Commission will hold a public hearing at its regular Feb. 20 meeting on the county’s proposed five-year capital improvement plan.

The county’s department heads and School Board submitted requests totaling more than $137 million for infrastructure and equipment over the next five years; most of that, $126.2 million, is for infrastructure.

Of that $126.2 million, school building needs account for $88.7 million or more than 70 percent.

Requests for capital projects totaled $44.5 for the next fiscal year.

County Administrator Charles Culley took a meat axe to the requests, reducing the five year total to $55 million. Culley only recommended funding for $2.6 million of capital projects in the budget year that begins July 1. The following fiscal year, 2014-15, he recommended projects totaling $23.1 million, but most of that would be for an expansion and renovation of Caroline High School, which is expected to cost roughly $21 million.

The School Board has a five-year capital improvement plan that calls for $40 million next year – the high school project, $16 million to renovate and expand old Ladysmith Elementary School into a new elementary school, and $3 million for renovations to Madison Elementary School. Other major projects in future years include $13.5 million for renovations to Caroline Middle School and $30 million for a new middle school.

Culley recommended funding only one school project in the next five years – the high school – and deferring the high school project one year until the 2014-15 budget year.

In the next fiscal year, Culley endorsed Sheriff Tony Lippa’s request for $242,020 for vehicles and equipment.

Fire-Rescue Chief Jason Loftus asked for more than $1 million for a couple of new fire trucks and ambulances; Culley trimmed that to $646,000 to replace one fire truck and response vehicles. In fact, Culley rejected the rest of the fire-rescue requests for the five-year planning period, requests that total $4.1 million.

The public works department asked for infrastructure projects totaling $9.7 million over five years; Culley recommended $2.6 million, with only one project – expanding the Ladysmith solid waste convenience site for $200,000 – in the next budget year.

The Planning Commission was briefed on the department requests and Culley’s recommendations at its regular work session on Wednesday night this week. Mike Finchum, director of the county’s department of planning and community development, acknowledged the county’s tight budget climate.

“There’s a lot of needs out there,” Finchum told the panel. “There isn’t necessarily all the money to do it.”

Among the department requests, Finchum noted that fire trucks and other fire-rescue equipment the county began to purchase in the 1990s is due to be replaced. In addition, the needs of the county government’s various departments need to be balanced with the capital needs of the school division, noted Finchum.

“How much gravy do these department heads have in here?” asked commissioner Robert Fiumara.

There is “not much gravy” in the department requests, answered Finchum.

Commissioner Milton Bush questioned the need for a new animal shelter and an incinerator for the animal shelter. The department of public works requested $110,000 for an incinerator in fiscal year 2014-15 and $1.2 million for a new shelter the year after. In his recommendations, Culley deferred both requests for a year or two.

“Are the animals more important than people?” asked Bush, who noted the county’s myriad other capital needs. “I love animals,” he added, but questioned the expenditures.

The county’s animal shelter continues to experience problems related to maintenance and other issues, said Finchum, who noted the facility must meet state standards.

Commission chairman ‘Pete’ Davis suggested that a member of the panel should serve on the task force the Board of Supervisors has created to provide input for the high school project.

The Board of Supervisors will hold its own public hearing on the capital improvement plan before ultimately voting on it.

Posted on Thursday, February 7, 2013 at 1:58 pm