Berkeley Co. to 'test fit' proposed emergency center

December 11, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- The Berkeley County Commission voted 2-1 Thursday to spend money on an emergency operations center project, which the commissioners have yet to determine they can afford.

A $31,517 architectural fee proposal by Arlington, Va.-based AECOM was approved by Commissioners Ronald K. Collins and William L. "Bill" Stubblefield.

Commissioner Anthony J. "Tony" Petrucci voted against spending the money to have the architect conduct a "test-fit" of the former Martin's grocery store-CVS/pharmacy property along South Raleigh Street in Martinsburg.

Commissioners are eyeing the 5.5-acre property they purchased in 2007 for $3.15 million to determine if it could house the sheriff's department and county emergency dispatch and response agencies.


While not opposed to the county's need for a new emergency operations center, Petrucci said he wanted to allow other architectural firms to bid on the work to possibly get a better price.

"And the second part (of my concern) is ... why spend $31,000 if we can't afford it," Petrucci said.

Stubblefield and Collins said Thursday that they had not determined if the county could afford the project, but agreed that financing it without raising taxes could only be accomplished through a bond issue or yet-to-be-received state or federal grants.

If all of the $12.3 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) stimulus bonds that are available to Berkeley County are issued, the county commission would have to budget about $720,000 annually to pay off the bonds in 30 years, according to figures Stubblefield released Thursday.

That amount would be added to the $2.4 million in annual debt service already owed by the county, according to county records.

The county had $1.5 million in bonds issued this fall to pay for the ongoing roof and air-handling system replacement project at the county's administration building at 400 W. Stephen St.

Since 2004, a total of about $36.4 million in bonds has been issued for county projects, most notably the judicial center, which opened three years ago, according to the county's financial statement for 2008-09.

Stubblefield said the decision to hire AECOM to prepare a preliminary survey was justifiable, given the Sheriff's Department's cramped and outdated facility at 802 Emmett Rousch Drive.

"I can afford a few dollars to get that basic information," Stubblefield said.

A December 2010 deadline for issuing the ARRA bonds, which come with a relatively low interest rate, also is factoring in the need to explore options, Stubblefield said.

When asked if he had been advised whether the county could take on more debt, Collins said the county's bond counsel "did not say we couldn't."

At Thursday's meeting, Petrucci also voted in the minority against spending between $16,000 and $24,000 for technology upgrades in the county's planning and engineering departments.

"If you're not bringing in money, what do you do? You don't spend money unless it's absolutely necessary," Petrucci said after the meeting.

Petrucci said the amount of fees collected by the departments for development projects was "at rock bottom."

"We can get by without it," said Petrucci, who said he was willing to take a chance a system failure could occur. "It's taxpayers' money."

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