Public Safety, court buildings lead capital list

A new Public Safety Building for the Sheriff’s Office and Emergency Services Department, massive renovations and improvements to the county’s airport, and a thorough remodeling of the Circuit Court Complex in Downtown Salisbury top the list of infrastructure needs included in the fiscal 2019 capital budget.

Dozens of more mundane projects — a new air conditioning system for the county’s nursing home, new roofs for several of its buildings and maintenance work on several county dams –dominate the $20.014 million spending list.

The school board’s 15-project list, totaling $13.08 million, is included in that total.

If all of the projects are approved, over the next five years the total cost would be $46.159 million.

A new public library branch in Pittsville, the planning for a public camping park near Quantico, a new academic building at Wor-Wic Community College and construction of a fire station at the airport are also among the more-intriguing projects.

Government buildings

The Public Safety Building has been both needed the most and talked about the longest. The Sheriff’s Office is located in what former Sheriff Hunter Nelms once described as “essentially a farm building” on Naylor Mill Road, adjacent to the county Detention Center.

The mostly metal structure would potentially be unsafe in a hurricane or extreme weather situation, so the county must activate its Emergency Operations Center from a conference room inside the jail.

The office is also geographically challenged and deputies face awkward travel routes to the southern and eastern portions of the county.

County Executive Bob Culver is seeking $5.2 million this year and next for the building that is expected to cost $11.5 million when completed. The building would also house the 911 center which dispatches emergency response personnel countywide.

Culver said recently that potential locations are now being scouted, but has declined on specifics. County land near Arthur W. Perdue Stadium is rumored to be a top contender, given its access to Route 50 and the Salisbury Bypass.

An architect has been secured to begin a preliminary design.

For years, Sheriff Mike Lewis has been making the case for a new facility and will finally get his wish.

“The Wicomico County Sheriff’s Office is long overdue for a new and improved public safety complex where our citizens can come and see where their taxpayer funds are being spent,” Lewis said.

“When you look at what’s happening nationally and throughout the world, it’s important to have a law enforcement agency equipped to handle any crisis within our county,” Lewis said. “With the increase in law enforcement services across the county, especially within the City of Salisbury, our current facility located on Naylor Mill Road is seriously ill-equipped to handle the demands of 21st century policing.

“We are bursting at the seams.”

Continuing a series of building improvements for the judicial branches Downtown, $800,000 would be spent on the Circuit Court annex, north of the Courthouse and east of the Government Office Building. The entire renovation is expected to cost $2.25 million; $1.75 million was drawn from last year’s capital spending plan.

Even though the State’s Attorney’s Office departed the building five years ago for a new office building on East Main Street, the recent addition of a fourth judge has helped to bring the building to capacity.

Ironically, the entire building cost $5.5 million when it was constructed in 1987 and its plans were downsized by the County Council at the last minute. The council didn’t agree with the architects’ decision to design the build to accommodate future staff growth.

Wor-Wic Community College

Fast-growing Wor-Wic Community College already meets state requirements for another academic building, costing nearly $40 million and potentially going online in 2023. Wicomico’s share would be about $6.3 million, with another $2.6 million coming from Worcester County and the $26.8 million balance from the state.

Because of the heavy reliance on state support, however, that project is far from a done deal.

County library expansion

Though it operates a well-traveled bookmobile and annexes in Pittsville and the Centre at Salisbury mall, Wicomico has just one library, located in Downtown Salisbury. Neighboring Worcester, by comparison, has five significant branches.

Pittsville would be the location of a new $4.4 million, 8,000-square-foot library branch that would also house a computer lab and provide public meeting rooms. The county’s share would be $2.9 million with the other $1.5 million coming from state coffers.

Airport

Salisbury-Wicomico Airport has a complicated list of infrastructure needs. Depending on the project, potential funding would come from the county, state and federal governments, or from projected airport revenues.

County officials, under the county plan, would be making major investments in the airport, which is being touted as a jewel that could help drive economic development. Totaling $8.8 million this year, more money will go into the airport improvements pipeline in coming years.

The airport list is long and includes:

  • Fire station
  • Hangars
  • Runway extension
  • Control tower equipment
  • Public water service
  • A remodeling of the terminal building
  • An equipment building
  • Taxiway repaving and repairs
  • Cargo distribution center
  • Two land acquisitions for runway expansion

Culver has made airport expansion and improvements a priority. County leaders, economic development officials and the business community have aligned philosophical on the idea that the airport is an unappreciated jewel that can become a major economic driver.

County Administrator Wayne Strausburg said the airport needs millions of dollars in infrastructure improvements just to raise it to previous levels.

“The airport has been largely neglected for decades,” he said. “Even to keep it as is now, a lot of work is needed. It has to be repaired.”

Financing the projects

County officials received some welcome news last week when Gov. Larry Hogan’s budget proposal included $1.9 million toward the cost of running water service from Wor-Wic Community College to the complex located off Mount Hermon Road.

The County Council has until mid-February to act on the capital plan. Culver delivered the budget earlier than required to give council members more time to consider it.

“This is a fiscally conservative and safe capital plan,” Strausburg said. “We don’t have to go to the bond market and borrow money for anything new. We’re keeping the debt profile where it is now.”

Strausburg said the county will retire $10.9 million in debt this year. “We are able to fund (the capital budget) through our revenue stream and department savings.”

The county did well with Wall Street bankers and analysts at a December meeting in New York City and received a highly desirable AA-plus bond rating.

Greg Bassett is editor and general manager of Salisbury Independent. Reach him at gbassett@newszap.com

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