Reinstatement of funding for courthouse expected Judge approaches state after mixup on request

March 16, 1998|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Carroll Circuit Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr. said plans for a new state district courthouse and multipurpose building appear to be back on track after a delay in filing information sidetracked the project.

Beck, a former state senator who is the administrative judge for the Circuit Court, wrote Tuesday to the chairmen of the capital budget subcommittees for the Senate and the House of Delegates asking them to reinstate the money for planning and design.

Beck said he has received verbal assurances from politicians and state administrators that the $4.6 million project would not be eliminated. He has been pushing for a new courthouse for seven years.

"Hope springs eternal," said Beck, who was appointed to the bench in 1989 after seven years as a state senator and 10 as a delegate. "But I've been around the legislative process for a number of years -- and I've seen projects get bumped and never get back in."

Planning and design money for the courthouse had been approved by the 1997 General Assembly, but was not included in this year's capital budget for state projects. The judge said the county did not respond in time to state officials' concerns that the proposed site was too small.

Beck confirmed that a new site is being considered -- the vacated Roadway Express Inc. facility at 211 Greenwood Ave. near Ralph Street. At 2.6 acres, the property just outside Westminster's city limits would have more room for building and parking than the site previously proposed.

The property that had been under consideration -- the Bitzel & Associates real estate office at 101 N. Court St. -- is too small, Beck said. Nevertheless, he said, that site probably should be acquired for the court complex.

The county must pay for the land for the District Court, he said, as a trade-off for moving that state court out of its leased space in the county-owned courthouse annex.

Maryland's counties pay for circuit courts while the state pays for district courts.

The current District Court space on the first floor of the annex would be converted to a courtroom and chambers for a new circuit judge, Beck said. The county will need a fourth circuit judge by 2001 or 2002, according to projected caseloads and population.

"So we move into new space for the cost of acquiring a site," Beck said. "That puts the county way ahead: This will allow us to go into the 21st century without having to build a new circuit courthouse."

The county state's attorney will move into space on the second floor of the annex when the county school offices move out next year, he said. The historic courthouse will remain in use for civil cases. The lack of security precludes its use for criminal cases.

According to requests in the state's five-year capital improvement program, about $570,000 had been approved for the courthouse in fiscal 1999, with more than $4 million in construction money to follow in fiscal 2000. Land costs were estimated at $300,000.

"I didn't know there was a problem until November," Beck said, recalling that a state budget official asked him, " 'Hey, is the county interested in this building?' So we found ourselves on the outside looking in, on a project that was a lock."

To salvage the project, Steven D. Powell, the county's director of management and budget, said last month that county officials had provided the state with the necessary information. He said there had been a communication problem in dealing with two state agencies, the Department of General Services and the Department of Budget and Management.

"I haven't heard anything back yet," Beck said of his letters, but "I think there's a fairly good chance that [the funding] will be reinstated in this year's capital budget.

"The state Budget and Fiscal Planning folks say, even if it is delayed a year, they tell me it's safe, because they recognize that Carroll County has the need."

Pub Date: 3/16/98

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