In the next few weeks, while members cope with budget issues, the County Council must also decide whether to approve the financing framework for an $82 million administrative office complex in downtown Bel Air.
The Global Space Utilization Plan would be a combination of new construction and renovation that would improve the work space for many of the county's nearly 1,500 employees and offer residents a "one-stop shop" to handle business with various agencies, officials said.
In addition to consolidating county agencies under one roof, the Sheriff's Office, the Health Department, the state's attorney's office and the court clerk would also benefit from the expansion. The plan calls for constructing an administrative building and sheriff's headquarters first and then moving on to other projects.
Officials are asking the council to authorize alternative financing, such as a lease purchase or lease-to-own arrangement, rather than the traditional bonding. Annual payments, which would come before the council, would not appear as liabilities on the county's financial books.
A public hearing Tuesday drew favorable comments and support from the town.
"This plan definitely keeps county government in the county seat, rather than moving it out to an industrial park," said Bel Air Town Manager Chris Schlehr. "It will put a number of facilities back on the tax rolls. It also gives us the impetus to put our collective heads together and plan for parking."
The phased plan calls for construction of a five-story, 165,000-square-foot building on county property at Main Street and Churchville Road and for another new building, most likely three stories with about 60,000 square feet, for the Sheriff's Office at 119 Hayes St., where the Health Department is now.
State's Attorney Joseph Cassilly, whose offices are spread throughout four buildings, said he understood the magnitude of the decision facing the council and urged council members to act immediately.
"People have not stepped up to the responsibilities the electorate has asked them to take on," he said. "We are not prepared for the future. We need to get started and do what you all know in your hearts is the right thing, the thing that anticipates the future of this county."
Craig Ward, owner of a Main Street business and several of the county's rented properties, also urged the county to act.
"Interest rates are low, and there is capacity in the construction market now," he said. "This plan will help spur downtown Bel Air to the renaissance it has prepared for."
Council President Billy Boniface said the panel would not move on the bill until members had the opportunity to discuss it at length.