Commissioners trumpet progress so far
But Morgan says don’t expect new Johnson bridge soon
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.