Anne Arundel's ambitious capital budget

May 12, 1994

As soon as Anne Arundel County Executive Robert R. Neall unveiled his fiscal year 1995 budget, it was obvious where the County Council was going to try to make changes. Not on the operating side, where Mr. Neall basically maintained the status quo in a fair, non-controversial spending plan, but in a capital budget highlighted by expensive, contentious projects.

The council already is living up to expectations, with some members objecting to the cost of a new county courthouse and others vowing to fight the location of a new county jail.

It is the council members' job to review and criticize the budget, so we will not fault them for scrutinizing what is without doubt an ambitious capital program. But there is reason to fear that their enthusiasm to leave their mark on this budget and their parochialism will undo years of work that has gone into planning two critical projects.

Yes, the $55.4 million expansion of the courthouse on Church Circle in Annapolis is hugely expensive. It is also a once-in-a-generation undertaking, crucial to the economic future of the city. Mr. Neall and Annapolis leaders have fought valiantly to make sure the courthouse stays downtown instead of moving to the outskirts like so many other municipal buildings, even though this process required difficult negotiations with the city's Historic District Commission over the design.

Now the council, seemingly oblivious to months of virtually unanimous agreement for keeping the courthouse downtown, is talking about tossing out all that work and resurrecting the idea of moving the courthouse in order to save money. That would be a disaster for the city. The council should leave alone the $24.2 million Mr. Neall has allocated to start the project so it can get moving before he leaves office and another executive, who may be less concerned about the future of Annapolis, takes over.

The same goes for seed money for the jail. We do not expect the council members who represent the northern parts of Anne Arundel County to waste this chance to try to thwart the jail, especially with an election looming. But having agreed on a site after two years of proposals bouncing ludicrously from community to community, the council should make sure not to send this battle back to square one.

Like the courthouse, this is a big-cost item, but a necessary one that must go forward, property tax cap or not, election year or not.

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