Officials look to prioritize improvement projects
Staff brings list of projects for modification
Over the next few years, Charles County will be moving closer and closer to approaching its debt ceiling. The goal is never to surpass the ceiling of 8 percent, but with $495.3 million in capital improvement projects the county has to consider its options.
During last week’s Charles County Board of Commissioners meeting, David Eicholtz, the county’s director of Fiscal and Administrative Services, said the county has about $231.8 million in unfunded future projects over the next five years it cannot afford to move forward on because of the debt ceiling.
But the commissioners requested to see projects that were not yet completed with minimal funding that were scheduled to move forward to see where they could cut costs. Eicholtz and Jenifer Ellin, the county’s chief of budget, brought a list of projects back to the commissioners for Tuesday’s meeting.
The list of 19 projects prepared by county staff included a county bridge replacement program, road safety improvements and renovations to schools across the county like Dr. Gustavus Brown Elementary School and Maurice J. McDonough High School.
Though those projects made the list, Eicholtz said he and staff would not recommend removing any projects completely from the county’s plans.
“We have to come up with a better system because all of these projects are important,” Eicholtz said.
There are many reasons why projects have not gotten underway, but many of them have not had a chance to be funded yet by the county, Eicholtz said. The county could consider cutting some of the funding over the next few years, which could potentially slow down the process, he said, but the projects will still be completed.
There is a risk involved, he said, because it is difficult to tell what money may be needed and what is not. However, he said, the county would save money and could potentially move forward on other projects.
“If you tweak down some of the future allocations that were being added to these parent projects, you can generate some debt capacity,” Eicholtz said. “We would hope that we could get by with the amounts that are being proposed. And if not, we adjust the CIP ever y year.”
County Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) said it would be helpful if the commissioners could receive another list indicating how much money would be generated from decreasing funds on various projects.
Robinson said he would agree that most of the projects listed on the capital improvement slate should not be touched, but others may be able to take a back seat to more important needs.
“Some of these shouldn’t be touched, but some of these I would consider,” Robinson said.
County Commissioners’ President Peter Murphy (D) said having a list of items helps the commissioners make decisions going forward about how to generate more debt capacity.
County Administrator Michael Mallinoff said there did not need to be any decisions made on the list presented to the commissioners on Tuesday. There is still time between now and when the budget is passed, he said. What the county staff needs now, he said, is feedback from the commissioners.
“That will give us time to work on it and get back to you but we still have time before when we pass the budget,” Mallinoff said.
Robinson said if the list could become more specific, the commissioners may be able to determine what they would like to reduce by next Tuesday’s commissioners meeting.
Eichotlz said typically the capital improvement budget is adopted with the overall budget, which is normally completed by May. However, he said, it can be done on a different time frame depending on where the commissioners are.
Commissioner Bobby Rucci (D) said it may be wise for the county to free money up and not touch it to create a larger “buffer” for its debt capacity. Eicholtz said it would be a wise thing to do, but they do have needs that must be addressed through their capital budget.
“You have a pent-up demand of projects you can afford so I would suggest that we would get to those high priority projects,” he said.