Caro­line makes leg­isla­tive ses­sion re­quests

Times-Record - - NEWS - By ABBY AN­DREWS aan­drews@car­o­line­times­record.com

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.”

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