Council likely to OK AlliedSignal deal Howard would buy building to keep employer

September 23, 1997|By Craig Timberg | Craig Timberg,SUN STAFF

A majority of the Howard County Council is all but certain to approve plans to buy the AlliedSignal building in Columbia for $7.5 million to keep one of the county's largest employers from leaving.

Council members dug into the details of the deal last night in a meeting with administration officials and company Vice President Christopher G. Marshall.

Several new pieces of information emerged, but none seemed to shake a growing consensus that the 200,000-square-foot building represents a good deal for a growing county.

"It seems like a reasonable transaction, but I want to think a little more about it," said Council Chairman Dennis R. Schrader, a North Laurel Republican, after the meeting.

Three other council members, including Republican Councilman Charles C. Feaga and both council Democrats, said they were likely to support the deal. Only Republican Councilman Darrel E. Drown expressed serious reservations.

County Executive Charles I. Ecker, a Republican, proposed the deal to buy the Bendix Road headquarters of AlliedSignal Technical Services Corp., which had been looking for a new home closer to Washington.

The company employs 900 workers in the county -- 500 at the Bendix Road building alone.

Ecker has also said the county needs more space for its offices. But the deal is dependent on AlliedSignal agreeing to stay in the county, probably in a new 120,000-square-foot office building in Columbia.

Marshall, the AlliedSignal vice president, said last night that the company plans to lease a new building for no more than seven years.

"I can't give you a better commitment than that," Marshall told the council. "Our intention is to get a new building and to stay there indefinitely."

Council members did not complain about the uncertainty of the deal -- even though nearly all of the purchase price would be financed by bonds that would take 20 years to pay off.

Instead, they focused on the costs of the purchase.

The purchase price would be $7.5 million, but administration officials said it would cost $3 million more to renovate the building for use by the county.

County officials say they and the school system rent 137,000 square feet of office and warehouse space at a cost of more than $1 million a year.

Annual payments on the AlliedSignal building would be less than $1 million, say county officials.

But Marshall said the company now spends $1.4 million a year on utilities, security, maintenance and other operating costs.

That figure alarmed Drown, who spent much of the meeting punching numbers into his calculator.

"Two hundred thousand square feet is an awful lot of building," said Drown after the meeting. "I hate to go against Chuck [Ecker] on this one, but we have to look at total cost."

Administration officials last night also released several new financial details about the possible purchase.

Appraiser John V. McDonough of Reisterstown reported that the AlliedSignal building and its 29 acres are worth $10.9 million. Just last week, county officials had refused to release that appraisal.

Taking the building off the tax rolls would cost the county $187,000 each year. Buildings owned by the county pay no taxes.

The county expects AlliedSignal to pay about $75,000 a month in rental to the county for up to 18 months after selling it. It could take that long for the company to move into a new building.

Councilman C. Vernon Gray, an east Columbia Democrat who plans to support the deal, complained last night about one aspect of it: The plan to use money from the cable television fund to help bankroll the purchase.

The cable fund, which has a $700,000 surplus, is collected from a surcharge on the monthly bills of county cable subscribers.

Ecker has proposed using $500,000 of that money to help buy the AlliedSignal building because it has two television studios, which could be used by county cable operations and the school system. But Gray questioned whether the studios were worth $500,000 and asked for an appraisal.

"It's really double taxation for the cable subscribers," Gray said. "I think it's unfair. I think it's misuse of the funds."

Pub Date: 9/23/97

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