Caroline makes legislative session requests
DENTON — The Caroline County commissioners met with state representatives Tuesday, Oct. 16, to discuss their requests for the upcoming 2019 legislative session of the Maryland General Assembly.
Commissioners asked for a $150,000 bond bill to finish the outdoor space at the Chesapeake Culinary Center in Denton, and for a bill that would expand the list of state funding-eligible school construction costs to include site acquisition and architectural and engineering services, provided the project meets certain criteria.
Attending were Sen. Addie Eckardt, R-37; Sen. Stephen Hershey, R-36; Del. Jeff Ghrist, R-36; Del. Jay Jacobs, R-36; Del. Chris Adams, R37B; Del. Johnny Mautz, R37B; and Del. Steve Arentz, R-36.
Beth Brewster, supervisor of food services for Caroline County Public Schools, said transforming the yard around the Chesapeake Culinary Center into an outdoor venue space is the last step in a 15year process to completely revamp the former Caroline High School property on Franklin Street.
The once long-vacant brick building is now home to classes, for both adults and students in the Caroline Career and Technology Center’s culinary arts program; a commercial kitchen that can be rented by entrepreneurs; and Shore Gourmet Cafe and Market, open five days a week, featuring local products.
The bond bill would fund replacing an old chain-link fence with an aluminum one fitting the style of the building, hardscaping and landscaping, installing a rain garden for storm water management, building a shed and another small building for permanent restrooms and a bride’s room and purchasing an all-season tent with heating and air conditioning.
Brewster said it will create an outdoor venue for special events with 100 or more guests, a rarity in Caroline County.
She said the culinary center, which does off-site catering, does a lot of work for events at similar venues in neighboring Queen Anne’s and Talbot counties.
“We could bring some of that back home (to Caroline County),” Brewster said.
Finishing the outdoor space will help the Chesapeake Culinary Center’s “Food Connection” project, Brewster said, working toward a healthy community and addressing hunger and poverty through economic development and job training.
Acting Caroline County Administrator Sara Visintainer said this is the only bond bill request in the county for the 2019 session.
Commission President Larry Porter said the Chesapeake Culinary Center has proven to be a success.
“I personally strongly support it, and I hope you will too,” he told the gathered state delegates and senators.
The other bill request would address the rising cost of school construction, particularly for less wealthy jurisdictions like Caroline County.
A new Greensboro Elementary School is in its planning stages; current estimates put the total project cost at $47.8 million, but that could rise to $51 million by the time it is completed, due to new tariffs driving up the price of raw materials, said Milton Nagel, assistant superintendent for administrative services for Caroline County Public Schools.
“For (Caroline), that’s monumental, just off the charts,” Nagel said.
Visintainer said the county’s entire operating budget for FY2019 is $48.4 million.
The state is funding 80 percent of the project, leaving the other 20 percent to the county government, but that is only the “bricks and mortar,” Nagel said.
When adding in “soft costs,” like contracting out project management and paying construction workers the state-mandated prevailing wage, the actual state-county split moves to closer to 60-40, Visintainer said.
The bill the county has requested would focus on adding site acquisition and architectural and engineering services to the list of expenses eligible for state funding.
Nagel said while the school system already owned the land on which Greensboro Elementary School will be built, architectural and engineering services will cost about $2 million.
The bill stipulates in order to qualify to have those expenses partly funded by the state, the project cost must be at least 90 percent of the county’s total operating budget, the county’s income tax rate must be at the maximum 3.2 percent and at least half of the students to be served by the project must be eligible for free and reduced meals.
Visintainer said even though it is state mandates driving the costs higher, county staff felt it was a better strategy to pursue state funding for currently ineligible costs, rather than trying to reverse the mandates.
Ghrist said he thought such a bill might have a good chance at passing.
Ghrist said rural areas are at a disadvantage for major construction projects like schools, as they have to bring in unionized workers, pay them prevailing wage and house them in hotels, and ship in materials.
“We’ve tried to argue prevailing wage before, but it went nowhere,” Ghrist said. “This could be a great angle because it would have a positive impact on Baltimore City and other jurisdictions.”