Hayden delays 'bricks and mortar' $74.3 million worth of capital projects postponed to save county's bond rating

December 04, 1992|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Staff Writer

Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden has ordered delays of up to 21 months on $74.3 million worth of capital projects to conserve money during the county's budget crisis and protect its bond rating.

It's the second delay of so-called "bricks and mortar" projects in as many years, the result of reductions in state aid and a recession that has cut county tax revenues.

Overall, the delays will affect about 29 percent of almost $261 million in capital spending that had been planned over the next two years. The spending includes bond issues authorized by voters in 1990 and 1992, as well as water and sewer bonds, which are financed by fees and are sold without voter approval.

This year's action will delay $11 million worth of school construction and repair projects, in addition to scores of roads, bridges, sewers, waterway improvements, road resurfacing projects and alley replacements.

"It's devastating," said Dr. Stuart Berger, the county school superintendent

School department spokeswoman Myra Treiber said the school board will have to decide which projects are put on hold. County schools are under intense pressure to accommodate enrollment growth of about 3,500 children per year and to repair and maintain aging school buildings.

William P. Kaczorowski, president of the AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Council, was equally disappointed.

"A delay hurts us because we've got massive unemployment," as high as 40 percent to 60 percent in some crafts, he said, of unionized construction workers. He said construction union and company officials have been pressing state and local governments to speed up capital projects, not slow them down, to provide more jobs.

Larry Macks, a active county builder, heard about the delays at a meeting yesterday with county builders and contractors.

"I guess I'm still numb," Mr. Macks said later. "I don't know what choice he had. It's a lousy situation."

Mr. Macks said utility contractors would be hardest hit and said some could be forced out of business.

The larger portion of the delayed projects -- $44.3 million worth -- will be in public works, including $21.3 million for roads, bridges and storm drains and $23 million in water and sewer projects.

Recreation and Parks must delay $6.2 million worth of projects, and $8.4 million worth of renovations to government buildings will be held up. Another $4.4 million worth of projects involving waterways, libraries and senior centers must also wait.

Some projects, such as renovations planned this year for the Loch Raven branch library, will be held up only for three months. Others, including a section of Red Run Boulevard in Owings Mills or the second phase of the new Honeygo Boulevard in White Marsh, may be delayed up to 21 months.

Some of these projects, county officials said, would have been delayed anyway for other reasons. They noted that none of the projects was being eliminated.

One long-awaited project likely to be held up again is replacement of the 68-year-old bridge over Gunpowder Falls where Cromwell Bridge Road meets Glenarm Road. First announced in 1978, the project has been delayed by bureaucratic hassles over the years, and public works officials had hoped to get it under way this summer.

County budget analyst John D. Markley said the postponements will reduce the amount of money the county must pay in interest on bond debt at a time when it is facing a $27.5 million cut in state aid.

He said the delays will help protect the county's AAA bond

rating, which enables it to borrow at low interest rates. Any reduction in the bond rating would cause the county would have to pay higher interest to sell bonds and cost it millions more in debt service payments for years to come.

Mr. Markley said the county will also save $1.25 million in interest payments from this year's operating budget.

More important the delays will allow the county to get away with just one sale of bonds between now and June 30, 1994, postponing the creation of new debt.

The county will likely be forced to sell between $105 and $115 million in bonds next summer to keep current projects going and to start new ones not slated for delays.

Currently, the county spends about $87 million a year on bond interest, about 10.4 percent of annual local revenues.

Last year, in November, Mr. Hayden temporarily froze all capital projects for the first time. He then delayed some projects to slow the county's cash flow and to delay the necessity for selling bonds.

He also declined to spend all of the $198 million in borrowing authorized by voters in November 1990.

COUNTY'S CAPITAL CONSTRUCTION PROJECTS

This table shows the delays in capital construction projects ordered by Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden. All figures are in millions.

Project.. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..Planned.. .. .. ..Amount

category.. .. .. .. .. .. .. spending.. .. .. .delayed.. ...%

Roads, bridges, storm drains ..$50.3.. .. .. ....$21.3.. ..42

Government buildings.. .. .. ...15.0.. .. .. .. .. 8.4.. ..56

Recreation and parks.. .. .. .. 13.0.. .. .. .. ...6.2.. ..48

Water and sewer.. .. .. .. ....104.3.. .. .. .. ..23.0.. ..22

Schools.. .. .. .. .. .. .. ... 49.8.. .. .. .. ..11.0.. ..24

Others.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..13.4.. .. .. .. .. 4.4.. ..33

Total.. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .$260.6.. .. .. .. .$74.3.. ..29

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