County space needs debated

Officials at odds over new offices, garage in Towson

Schools called priority

September 04, 1999|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

The chairman of the Baltimore County Council says the county could save $1.2 million in rent each year for county office space -- and ease a parking crunch -- by putting up another government building and garage in Towson.

Councilman Kevin B. Kamenetz said the county administration should consider constructing an office building and garage on the county's acre-sized parcel at Chesapeake and Bosley avenues, now used as a county employee parking lot.

"We have the land, and we have the need. All I'm saying is we ought to have a plan in place for the future," said Kamenetz, a Democrat who represents the Liberty Road-Pikesville area.

County administration officials say it's cheaper to rent each year than to pay for a new building, given the cost of financing, and that the county cannot afford a new building, given the repairs needed at county schools.

"We think it's best to fix the schools first before spending what we have on an office building," said Michael J. Davis, a spokesman for County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger.

Kamenetz said he understands Ruppersberger's priorities, but that he thinks the county should consider its future office needs. "I understand that we're spending on schools as a priority, but I think we should be planning for the future as well," Kamenetz said.

The county leases office space at One Investment Place on York Road for a number of county agencies, including the Department of Social Services, the Health Department and the Office of Community Conservation.

The county also houses the Department of Environmental Protection and Resource Management and the Department of Planning in the Baltimore County Courts Building. Those agencies will have to vacate as the courts expand into the office space, Kamenetz said.

Issue raised at work session

Kamenetz raised the issue at a council work session this week when county health officials asked for approval of a lease for space for counseling and drug-abuse programs in the First Financial Group building across Washington Avenue from the old courthouse.

The council is expected to approve the three-year lease for $265,072 on Tuesday night.

Kamenetz said he would like the Baltimore County Revenue Authority, which operates four parking garages in Towson, to purchase the county-owned site on Chesapeake Avenue, construct a building and garage, and lease office space to the county.

Idea has been considered

George E. Hale, executive director of the revenue authority, said he has considered the county property on Chesapeake Avenue as a site for a garage and office building.

The authority, which has 3,450 spaces at its Towson garages and leases 1,500 of them to the county, will probably need a new garage with 600 to 800 spaces, Hale said.

But he said he has never approached county officials about purchasing the county-owned tract, and that the authority is not searching for a garage or building site.

"A year ago, the authority began looking for space where it might make sense to build a garage, but it's not something that we've been actively pursuing yet," Hale said.

No economic sense

Davis said a new county office building doesn't make economic sense.

The county pays $14.60 per square foot to rent 84,565 square feet of office space in the two Towson buildings, according to county figures.

Davis estimated that a new building would cost $25 million to $30 million, which would mean a cost of about $22 per square foot to pay off the bonds necessary to finance the project.

The costs would be the same whether the new offices were built by the authority or by the county, he said.

Moreover, almost half of the $1.2 million spent annually to rent office space in Towson comes from state and federal funds, said Fred Homan, county budget director.

A large chunk of that state and federal money -- $256,000 -- probably would be lost if the county health, social service and employment offices were relocated into a county building, Homan said.

Need acknowledged

County officials acknowledge that they have a need for more space.

The county recently considered buying two Towson office buildings: the Mercantile Building and the Jefferson Building, county officials said.

But both buildings had so many tenants with long-term leases that a county purchase was impossible, Davis said.

"If there was a way to save money and go into a new building, we'd do it, but it doesn't make sense from a fiscal standpoint," Davis said.

Pub Date: 9/04/99

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