County approves school budget
Officials also discuss Cobb Island bridge design
The Charles County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the $352.2 million fiscal year 2018 operating budget for the Charles County Board of Education during its open session Tuesday afternoon.
Charles County Public Schools Assis-
tant Superintendent of Fiscal Services Randy Sotomayor briefed the commissioners on the budget, which is larger than the fiscal year 2017 budget by $8 million, a 2.3 percent increase. Of that, county funding increases by $4.9 million, Sotomayor said.
According to an action item included with the briefing, the education budget includes salary increases, health care cost increases, mandatory replacements for aging buses and an increase in funding for special population students.
Sotomayor said in fiscal year 2017, Charles County Public Schools saw the second highest enrollment growth statewide for students with special needs. Charles County additionally saw the highest enrollment growth in Maryland for students identified as having limited proficiency in English.
During Tuesday’s session, the commissioners also unanimously approved a renewal of the University of Maryland Extension’s Charles County office lease at Potomac Square in La Plata for one additional year.
Deputy County Administrator Deborah Hall briefed the commissioners on the renewal negotiations, saying the landlord had originally requested a two year renewal with a 3 percent increase in rent each year. Instead, Hall said a one year renewal was agreed upon with a rent increase of 2 percent, with the option for an additional year also with a 2 percent rent increase, providing the county with flexibility on potential relocation options.
The final approval of the session came with the unanimous passing of a bill that updates the county’s nursing scholarship program policy. Scholarship recipients are required to use the scholarship at an accredited institution within the county or, if a class or field of study isn’t provided in Charles County, at an accredited institution within the state. Recipients who complete their studies are then required to practice at any licensed medical facility within the county, according to a draft of the bill.
Beyond items for approval, the commissioners also received briefings and updates on three different projects.
Charles County Director of Recreation, Parks and Tourism Eileen Minnick updated the commissioners on the Popes Creek waterfront project. The conceptual plan by Vista Design Inc. shows a parking lot off of Popes Creek Road featuring a wooden walkway loop to the Potomac River shoreline, with a pier and hexagonal observation deck extending from the boardwalk into the river. A crosswalk spanning Popes Creek Road would link the parking lot with the Popes Creek Rail Trail.
Steve Engle of Vista Design Inc. says the waterfront will serve as the head to the rest of the Popes Creek Rail Trail and would feature beach access. Engle, however, stressed that the plan is only a concept at this point.
Minnick said many permits and approvals would be required, but that in the best case scenario construction could begin by mid-2018. Construction would be completed in stages, with the parking lot area being completed first, she said.
Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) called the waterfront concept “beautiful and ambitious.”
Updating the commissioners on the project to construct solar-paneled parking canopies at the government building complex, Director of Public Works Bill Shreve said that construction is expected to begin at the end of this November, with the project slated for completion in May 2018.
The solar parking canopy project was cited in the climate change resolution passed by the commissioners last week as one such move Charles County is making to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The solar panels are projected to save the county more than $35,000 each year on energy costs, officials said.
The final project briefing of the session was for the new Cobb Island bridge, for which the Maryland State Highway Administration is currently in the design phase. Shreve says the state wants the new bridge to include a pedestrian sidewalk and lighting. While the state pays for the lighting design, the county would ultimately have to cover all other lighting costs, including construction, maintenance and electrical expenses, Shreve said.
Robinson said that previous feedback from Cobb Island residents showed that many residents did not want amenities for the new bridge. He suggested a public meeting for Cobb Island residents to express their thoughts on the proposed pedestrian lighting designs. This public meeting is scheduled for July 11, with the time yet to be announced.