Of­fi­cials look to pri­or­i­tize im­prove­ment projects

Staff brings list of projects for mod­i­fi­ca­tion

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By MICHAEL SYKES II msykes@somd­news.com Twit­ter: @SykesIndyNews

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.

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