Com­mis­sion­ers trum­pet progress so far

But Mor­gan says don’t ex­pect new John­son bridge soon

The Enterprise - - Front Page - By JA­SON BAB­COCK jbab­cock@somd­

Pub­lic in­fra­struc­ture projects are get­ting built and taxes haven’t been raised, the St. Mary’s com­mis­sion­ers touted at Tues­day’s State of the County lun­cheon held in Lex­ing­ton Park.

The prop­erty tax rate was re­duced twice since this board of Repub­li­can com­mis­sion­ers took of­fice in 2014. Though the re­duc­tions were slight, Com­mis­sion Pres­i­dent Randy Guy (R) said he was proud the board was able to do that. “That’s un­be­liev­able. Most counties can’t even come close to say­ing that,” he said.

The board has been re­spon­sive in pro­vid­ing ameni­ties, while keep­ing taxes low, Com­mis- sioner Mike He­witt (R) said. And though the two prop­erty tax re­duc­tions were mi­nor, he said “it’s $75 in your pocket ver­sus in the govern­ment’s pocket.”

Com­mis­sioner Todd Mor­gan (R) said, “We live in a great county. We have a very strong econ­omy.” And though Mor­gan voted against the prop­erty tax re­duc­tions in 2015 and in March of this year, he noted, “we’ve never raised taxes.”

Patux­ent River Naval Air Sta­tion is a $42 bil­lion-a-year busi­ness, Mor­gan said, with 22,000 em­ploy­ees. The base is the county’s main eco­nomic driver.

The com­mis­sion­ers are in agree­ment to di­ver­sify the econ­omy through small busi- nesses, light man­u­fac­tur­ing and hon­ing in on avi­a­tion. “In­vest­ment in avi­a­tion is a huge op­por­tu­nity for us,” Com­mis­sioner Tom Jar­boe (R) said, es­pe­cially at the St. Mary’s County Re­gional Air­port.

But grow­ing re­quires in­fra­struc­ture re­quire­ments, and “all that costs a lot of money,” he said.

“This county is boom­ing. Our in­fra­struc­ture is get­ting back to where it’s sup­posed to be,” Com­mis­sioner John O’Con­nor (R) said.

O’Con­nor is the only in­cum­bent com­mis­sioner who has filed so far for an­other term in next year’s elec­tion. Jar­boe has al­ready said he is not seek­ing re-elec­tion.

“Ev­ery­thing that has been kicked down the road for many years … this board has taken the heat for ev­ery sin­gle step we’ve gone along the way,” O’Con­nor said.

“I want to fin­ish FDR Boule­vard,” Mor­gan said. FDR Boule­vard is be­ing built from the First Colony devel­op­ment in Cal­i­for­nia to Chan­cel­lor’s Run Road. When built down to Pegg Road in Lex­ing­ton Park, the road will be 3.7 miles long. FDR Boule­vard is bud­geted at $43.5 mil­lion and has been on the books for decades.

“I want that damn jail. It’s go­ing to get done,” Mor-

gan said. The ex­pan­sion of the jail is bud­geted at $25.2 mil­lion.

“That jail is a mess, and it has been kicked down the road year af­ter year af­ter year,” O’Con­nor said. “Fi­nally, this board said we’re not go­ing to take it any­more. We’re go­ing to put money where our mouth is, and we’re go­ing to get this done. And un­for­tu­nately, the state doesn’t have the money right now. But we’re go­ing to work through that,” he said.

The re­place­ment of the Gov. Thomas John­son Bridge be­tween Calvert and St. Mary’s counties is es­ti­mated to cost hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars. It is a Mary­land State High­way Ad­min­is­tra­tion project.

“Don’t bring it up,” Mor­gan said. “I can prom­ise you I’m not go­ing to see that bridge in my life­time. Un­less some­thing dras­ti­cally changes, I don’t count on a bridge.”

The com­mis­sion­ers then took ques­tions from the au­di­ence mem­bers at the event, which was pre­sented by the St. Mary’s County Cham­ber of Com­merce.

Mor­gan was asked what the com­mis­sion­ers were do­ing to support Lex­ing­ton Park, and about mov­ing up the con­struc­tion of a pro­posed com­mu­nity cen­ter there.

Mor­gan said that it was the Navy’s de­ci­sion to move Pax River’s main gate from Gate 2 at Great Mills Road to Gate 1 at Pegg Road, and “as a re-

sult over the years, there’s been a de­te­ri­o­ra­tion in the Lex­ing­ton Park area. We are all very fa­mil­iar with that.”

How­ever, pri­vate in­vest­ment is be­ing made along Great Mills Road, he said, as Tay­lor Gas Co. built a new head­quar­ters, a new med­i­cal fa­cil­ity is be­ing built across from Great Mills High School, and there is talk of rede­vel­op­ment at Tu­lagi Place.

“Rome wasn’t built in a day. Lex­ing­ton Park didn’t fall apart in a day. We’re try­ing to put those build­ing blocks in place to get it back,” Mor­gan said.

As for a new com­mu­nity cen­ter in Lex­ing­ton Park, the county bud­get has a $16.3 mil­lion fa­cil­ity planned at Ni­co­let Park

with con­struc­tion planned be­yond fis­cal 2023.

But Mor­gan said many things need to hap­pen to ac­cel­er­ate that project. The com­mis­sion­ers need more bond­ing au­thor­ity from the Mary­land Gen­eral Assem­bly to bor­row money for con­struc­tion projects.

“It takes a bunch of votes to move that up, and it also takes money to be able to do it,” he said.

The com­mis­sion­ers were also asked what they are do­ing to com­bat the opi­oid ad­dic­tion and over­dose prob­lem lo­cally, and if there are any pos­i­tive re­sults so far. O’Con­nor said the St. Mary’s state’s at­tor­ney is pros­e­cut­ing six peo­ple for deal­ing the drugs.

County agen­cies are work­ing to pro­mote aware­ness of the prob­lem. Sher­iff’s deputies and emer­gency first re­spon­ders carry nalox­one to re­vive peo­ple who have over­dosed on opi­oids, he said.

“It’s good that we’re sav­ing lives. The epi­demic is there,” O’Con­nor said.

St. Mary’s leads other counties for deputies car­ry­ing nalox­one, he said.

“Are we win­ning? No. We’re not go­ing to win the war on drugs. I ac­cepted that a long time ago,” he said.

But in­ter­ven­tion and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion work con­tin­ues. “We’re win­ning in that way. We’re los­ing be­cause it’s a na­tional prob­lem, but lo­cally we’re mak­ing strides,” he said.

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