Budget concerns impact sheriff’s building timeline

Funding for the county’s new Public Safety Building has been delayed for one year because of concerns by county officials about major impending expenses.

“We are now just awarding the design of the building, so in terms of a design-construction schedule, we determined we will not need the second half of the money for the Public Safety Building until FY21. Pushing this out does not delay the project whatsoever,” Assistant County Administrator Weston Young said this week.

“If we thought we could afford it, we would propose the money next year just to have it all available. While there is a slight risk doing this, we’re deciding to do this due to the financial forecast we have,” he said.

Included in the county’s Capital Improvement Plan is paying for the second half of the Public Safety Building through two methods. They are using $2.4 million in the General Fund “Pay-Go,” with FY21 revenue, and using $2.8 million in General Obligation Bond Proceeds, Young explained.

Forthcoming expenses that concern county officials are the cost to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour, expected to cost $7 million spread over several years, funding for schools through the Kirwin Commission and concern about an upcoming  recession.

In May 2018, it was announced the Wicomico County Sheriff’s Office would move from its present location on Naylor Mill Road, where it’s been since 1989, to a new, $10-million, modern, spacious Public Safety Building.

At the time, construction was set to begin in late 2018 on about 9 acres of land located about 10 miles from the current building in the Westwood Commerce Park. Naylor Mill Road is north of it and International Drive is to the south.

About $5.2 million for last year and $5.2 million for this year were in the county’s Capital Improvement Plan.

The Wicomico County Council approved acquisition of the land for the appraised value of $586,300 from Westwood Development, LLC.

Square footage of the new building isn’t yet known because design hasn’t yet begun.

The current building is in a low area, which causes flooding if there are heavy rains, Young said.

“The beauty of the proposed building is, it can be expanded in 15 to 20 years. You can take out a wall and build out,” Young said.

“This was never intended to be a 21st Century public safety building,” Capt. Tod Richardson, Special Operations Bureau Commander, explained during discussion about the building last year.

“We’ve been here since 1989, at least. We will have been here 30 years by the time we move. It has been in use as a Sheriff’s Office, 911 and the Fire Marshal’s Office all included in one building. We slowly took over as the Sheriff’s Office only as we have grown.

“As far as security levels, it is not the quality of security that a true public safety building has,” Richardson said.

The building has 13,000 square feet and the new one will be much larger, with space for storage. Updated regulations require anything connected to DNA be kept forever and the current building is running out of space and proper climate control, Richardson said.

“We’re in tight quarters right now. The staff has increased since 1989.  We have 88 sworn deputies, plus the sheriff,” he said.

A new building has been “in the works since the sheriff took office,” he said.

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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