The County Commissioners told Carroll's statehouse delegation yesterday that they will halt the $4.2 million purchase of the Telemecanique building in Reese unless the owner makes public an environmental study of a tainted well at the site.
"I think the longer the present owner goes without releasing the study, the more difficult it will be for county employees -- or whoever is going to work in that building -- to accept the fact that it's safe," Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown said.
The commissioners made their intentions known during a morning meeting with legislators at the Bear Branch Nature Center. Lawmakers also listened to the county's legislative wish list, including a controversial request to grant the commissioners authority to override the planning commission.
The commissioners announced plans in July to buy the 156,000-square-foot former manufacturing plant on Bethel Road from Glenn S. Bair, president of the Westminster-based Development Co. of America. The building would be used as the headquarters for about 175 county school system administrators and staff members.
However, some lawmakers have said they cannot support the purchase of the former electrical components manufacturing plant unless they get assurances that a contaminated well inside the building is not a health hazard. The well, which contained traces of a chemical solvent, has been undergoing cleanup by Square D Co., a sister company of Telemecanique, for about a year.
Mr. Brown said an environmental impact study was reviewed by county and school board staff and an outside consultant, but they "cannot legally talk about it." County officials asked the owners to make the study public about two months ago, he said.
"Eight weeks is time enough if they're going to do it," Mr. Brown said. "I would think it is in their best interest. I don't think public government is going to buy the building without full public
discussion about the issue."
Mr. Bair could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Commissioner Richard T. Yates said he has said all along that the county should seek indemnity pertaining to any past environmental problems before purchasing the building.
"The environmental impact needs to be addressed," he said.
Commissioner Donald I. Dell said it seemed silly to reject a "valuable project" because the environmental report has not been released. He said information would be made known when the commissioners complete the purchase.
"The whole project has been very frustrating," said Mr. Dell, noting that he finds the site ideal for the school board's needs. "I appreciate everyone's concerns, but it's been proven beyond a doubt in my mind that there's no environmental concerns. Sometimes you have to bite the bullet and do what's right."
Mr. Brown said he wanted the information released in a timely fashion to allow a public meeting. He said county officials have notified the company about the new request and he wants the information by the end of next week.
"One of the issues publicly talked about in the press was the wisdom of purchasing that building with its environmental background," Mr. Brown said. "We're trying to set up a meeting to address the whole nine yards. I don't intend to buy that building without a complete public airing of the environmental concerns."
The search for a new school board headquarters has spanned eight years and three boards of commissioners. The school offices now are in the south wing of the courthouse annex in Westminster, space that Circuit Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr. said he needs.
Much of yesterday's meeting focused on the controversial legislative proposals. Although lawmakers said they understood the need to finance agricultural preservation, they were concerned about initiating a 1 percent real estate transfer tax. Revenue from the tax -- estimated to be about $2.5 million a year -- would be split between the county's agricultural preservation programs and infrastructure improvements.
"We need an infusion of money," Mr. Brown said, referring to both the agricultural program and road maintenance. "Do we want agricultural preservation or don't we? If we do, we need to fund it."
Sen. Larry E. Haines, a Westminster Republican who is chairman of the county delegation, argued that more taxes drive more spending. He said it was unlikely the proposal would save Carroll's farm preservation program.
Commissioners Brown and Dell said they did not support a proposal to give the board veto power over the planning board. Mr. Yates said he wants the authority because the commissioners stand accountable for any decisions made by an appointed board.
A public hearing on the legislative wish list is set for Jan. 27 at the County Office Building in Westminster.