Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Howard County's Money Pit

Two weeks ago, County Executive Kittleman issued his $342.9 million FY16 Capital Budget.  Despite the guarded tone and notes about cutting back in the article, readers should know that this Capital Budget is approximately $80 million more than Ken Ulman's FY15 Capital Budget, which came in at a cool $259.9 million.  These numbers will fluctuate depending on the needs of the County at any given time (ex., FY14 Capital Budget was $442.4 million), but I think it is important to view any budget in the context of its predecessors so as to avoid the declaration of a "new era" of County spending.  If you get into the meat of the budgets themselves, you will see that more often than not they are carrying over planned expenses from the previous year.

But inside of this context there is a very curious line item: The Howard County Courthouse.  It's the Rodney Dangerfield of County priorities.  For perfectly understandable reasons, too.  There is no political gravity here, which may explain why this can goes so far when kicked.

As recently as 2012, a $9 million renovation was planned for the Courthouse, but this was scrapped after officials determined that the Ascend One building would not be a suitable temporary location due to security concerns.  Notably, this was after approximately $1.5 million had been spent on preparing the building for the move.

The next year, Ken Ulman plotted out $31.6 million over four years, starting in the FY14 Capital Budget, to upgrade and renovate the existing courthouse.

In 2014, Ken Ulman's FY15 Capital Budget included $3 million for expansion of the Howard County Courthouse.

And now, in 2015, County Executive Kittleman's FY15 Capital Budget includes....(drum-roll please)...
...$300,000 on a new feasibility study for a planned expansion of the county's circuit courthouse. He said the cost of renovating the existing courthouse was close to the cost to build an entirely new courthouse and he would like to examine other options, such as a relocation of the court. 
 "Feasibility study" is the way your government tells you they are going back to the drawing board.

I don't blame Executive Kittleman for taking this approach.  This problem has now crossed into its third administration and there is no reason for him to be stuck with a plan he disagrees with.  Nevertheless, this needs to get done.  Our judges are citing security concerns and our lawyers are embarrassed by the tree-house of a structure we offer to the state for resolution of local disputes.

But the next time you start using your imagination on things included in a Capital Budget, think of the Courthouse.

That's all for today.  Have a great Tuesday doing what you love!