County makes re­quests for 2017 leg­isla­tive ses­sion

Times-Record - - News - By ABBY AN­DREWS aan­drews@car­o­line­times­

DEN­TON — The Caro­line County com­mis­sion­ers met Tues­day, Nov. 15, with the Mary­land state del­e­gates and sen­a­tors who rep­re­sent them to dis­cuss the county’s leg­isla­tive re­quests, is­sues and con­cerns, as the del­e­ga­tion pre­pares for the 2017 ses­sion.

Among the bill re­quests are one that would fix a state fund­ing in­equal­ity for sev­eral small com­mu­nity col­leges, in­clud­ing Ch­e­sa­peake Col­lege, and a bond bill for cap­i­tal im­prove­ments at the Bene­dic­tine School out­side Ridgely.

A third bill re­quest, that would have al­lowed the com­mis­sion­ers to serve stag­gered terms, was with­drawn af­ter the com­mis­sion­ers re­cently voted not to ex­pand the board from three to five mem­bers.

The biggest dis­cus­sion item dur­ing the meet­ing was the ef­fect of state reg­u­la­tions on the cost to ren­o­vate ex­ist­ing schools and build new ones.

Mil­ton Nagel, Caro­line County Pub­lic Schools’ as­sis­tant su­per­in­ten­dent for ad­min­is­tra­tive ser­vices, pre­sented two re­cent ex­am­ples.

The school sys­tem’s most re­cently com­pleted project was the ren­o­va­tion of Pre­ston El­e­men­tary School, which in­cluded a large ad­di­tion.

The orig­i­nal con­struc­tion bud­get was $15.2 mil­lion, Nagel said, but when the first bids came in, they to­taled $18.5 mil­lion. Af­ter re-bid­ding the project and ad­just­ing some items, the cost was brought down to $16.2 mil­lion, a $1 mil­lion short­fall which, for­tu­nately, the county was able to step up and cover, in ad­di­tion to its orig­i­nal com­mit­ment.

Nagel said the same thing is hap­pen­ing as the school sys­tem pre­pares to ren­o­vate Greens­boro El­e­men­tary School. The con­struc­tion bud­get is $35.8 mil­lion, but the ar­chi­tect and con­struc­tion man­age­ment firms es­ti­mate the real cost will be $52.4 mil­lion — 46 per­cent over bud­get.

Sev­eral prob­lems are at play, Nagel said.

First, Nagel said, the con­struc­tion bud­get, in­clud­ing the amount of state fund­ing to be re­ceived, is set when the state ap­proves the project, but it might be months un­til the project is ac­tu­ally ready to be bid. By that time, costs have risen, driv­ing them be­yond the bud­get.

Sec­ond, Caro­line County has a hard time at­tract­ing mul­ti­ple con­trac­tors to bid; Delaware con­trac­tors do not want to cross state lines and deal with Mary­land’s more com­plex pa­per­work and cer­ti­fi­ca­tion re­quire­ments, while con­trac­tors on the western shore avoid the area be­cause of a lack of hous­ing for work­ers.

As a re­sult, the county only re­ceives a cou­ple of bids at a time, so the quotes are not com­pet­i­tive. “They bid high,” Nagel said. Nagel said even con­trac­tors who would oth­er­wise bid on the project choose not to be­cause of the state’s pre­vail­ing wage re­quire­ment, which calls for work­ers to be paid a rate higher than their usual wage.

The pre­vail­ing wage re­quire­ments, com­bined with more re­quire­ments for cer­ti­fi­ca­tion and en­ergy ef­fi­ciency, drive up the to­tal project costs by 35 per­cent, Nagel said.

Fi­nally, since state school con­struc­tion funds are lim­ited, projects are of­ten dragged out over more fund­ing cy­cles than nec­es­sary, Nagel said. An 18-month project might need 36 months of fund­ing, and in that time, costs con­tinue to rise.

Nagel said the school sys­tem is cur­rently look­ing at how the Greens­boro El­e­men­tary School project might be ac­com­plished with­out any state fund­ing. With­out all the re­quire­ments and re­stric­tions, it could be sig­nif­i­cantly cheaper for the county to build the school, even with­out any state money.

Charles Pet­rick, su­per­vi­sor of school con­struc­tion, said a project was re­cently com­pleted in Ten­nessee, in which a brand new school, the same size Greens­boro will be af­ter the ren­o­va­tion, was built for $28 mil­lion, half of the pro­jected cost for the ren­o­va­tion.

Sen. Stephen Her­shey, R-36, said pre­par­ing a bud­get with­out state fund­ing could send a strong mes­sage to the state.

“It would be a great chance to make a state­ment, to say we don’t want your man­dates or your money,” Her­shey said.

Caro­line County Ad­min­is­tra­tor Ken Decker said the healthy work­ing re­la­tion­ship be­tween the county’s gov­ern­ment and its school sys­tem would make it pos­si­ble.

“(The county gov­ern­ment) knows they do the best pos­si­ble job with the money they get, but their hands are tied (on school con­struc­tion bud­gets) be­cause of state man­dates,” Decker said.

The Mary­land As­so­ci­a­tion of Coun­ties has also iden­ti­fied smarter state fund­ing for school con­struc­tion as a top pri­or­ity in the 2017 leg­isla­tive ses­sion.

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