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How come two major issues emerging on the legislative scene are being considered in a strictly parallel fashion?  While parallel lines may never cross, I think these two issues should.

On February 16 the Planning Board heard testimony on new and major changes in the FY18 Capital budget.  This included funds to replace the historic Court House in Ellicott City. $70 million is requested in the FY18 budget but that number is expected to climb to a total of $130 million. A private/public partnership has been proposed to result in a building with a life expectancy of 30 (or 40) years. There is a lot of chatter on listserves and social media about the choice of the Dorsey Building on Bendix Road and the HCCA has done a great job of consolidating citizens’ thoughts on alternate locations.  I’ll reserve comment on that front for now in favor of making my connection to the other important topic. (You, however, are welcome to comment on this location debate.)

On February 16 the Planning Board also hosted a public speak out on the long awaited (or most would say, long overdue) Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance.  APFO is all about making sure that growth doesn’t outpace the facilities necessary to maintain a desired quality of life.  HoCo’s growth rate of late has been twice that of the State average and it’s been about 14 years since our Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance was last updated. So it is no wonder the natives are restless for relief from overcrowded schools and roads. They are also restless about the other quality of life issues absent from the proposed APFO: fire and emergency services and hospital beds to name a few.

I’ve been watching with some amusement these two issues (a new Courthouse and APFO) being addressed in isolation. How come we’re missing an obvious connection?  We’ve heard testimony before the Council that we must build a new Court House because we have simply outgrown the existing one. The facility is too small to accommodate all the people and all the supporting services typically housed in a court house …..and besides, its thick walls hamper internet service …..and there is no coffee shop for employees or jurors. If we’ve outgrown the existing facility then that must surely be the result of population growth.

Isn’t the whole mission of APFO to assure that our public facilities are adequate to accommodate our population growth?? Why then shouldn’t capital expenses related to supporting the judicial functions of HoCo be an area considered for inclusion in the APFO legislation???

Here’s some math for your consideration:

The new Courthouse will accommodate 6 judges with 2 additional chambers for “Growth” at a total cost of $130 million.
That makes the amount of courthouse expense allocated for “growth” going forward $32.5 million.
Now, the number of housing units being built per year approaches 2000 and the lifespan of the
proposed “lease” through the public/private partnership is either 30 or 40 years.
So……..Through this lens the cost to developers should equal a $406 surcharge per new residential unit for the next 40 years. Or $541 per unit if the lease is for 30 years.

To NOT include financing of the Courthouse as an APFO item simply passes the expense to existing residents. Regrettably this will be in addition to the $866 in debt each household will owe for the replacement courthouse.  How does that make you feel HoCo taxpayers?

We have a number of VERY rich residents in HoCo, sometimes described as “having money to burn”. But I can’t imagine that even they would be satisfied with paying $130 million for a home (or business building) that would have only a 30 to 40 year lifespan and then need to be replaced.

If the Courthouse is constructed on land already owned by the County which currently houses other County functions, the ripple effect of relocating those offices and functions elsewhere can set off a spiraling increase in costs as other facilities will need to be purchased and re-purposed or rented and repurposed. Ca-ching!

Let’s give this careful consideration through numerous lenses—including APFO—and meet me on the high road,

Susan

PS—If you don’t feel you have a clear understanding on how APFO will or will not improve life here in HoCo for YOUR family, please attend an ‘APFO Bootcamp’ to be presented at the Savage Library from 7:00 to 8:30 pm on Wednesday, March 22nd.  If you care about the schools, roads, and quality of life issues that affect you daily, you must become involved in shaping the final product—OR you yield your right to complain (at least for another 10 to 14 years.)

A special thanks to Judy George for organizing this informational forum.