(note: read all the way through to see why this is called what it’s labeled)
We need to “..act like it’s our house”,
Steve Sachs, the chair of the Spending Affordability Advisory Committee in Howard County said those words at the start of a December 20, 2016 meeting regarding a proposal they were to evaluate. The proposal dealt with the relocation and building of a new circuit courthouse in Howard County. The price tag was steep, and the long-term implications were many for the Committee and for Howard Countians who will be footing the bill for years for the project. Part of its mandate was to “..Review in detail the status and projections of revenues and expenditures for the county, not only for fiscal year 2018, but also for fiscal years 2019-2022”. According to Administrative Testimony submitted by James Irvin, the Director of DPW, an annual service fee payment will be spent in FY 2022 of about $10 million, give or take. $75 million, being financed by the issuance of $91 million in general obligation bonds, will be given in a payment when the building is ready for move-in. This is the same Mr. Irvin who told a Baltimore Sun reporter in November 2016 that retrofitting the old structure with renovations and an expansion was “nearly impossible”.
When I watched the video of that December 20, 2016, I couldn’t help but wonder about the identity of the “two council people” that Mr. Sachs said he sat down with about the project. I wondered it because of all the things he could have said to the Committee before they got down to business, he could be heard to say that he had initial concerns about being involved in something that was “political”. He indicated his clear reluctance to being involved in something political. It seemed to be clear, at least in the Committee’s report dated March 2017, that their task was also to “evaluate different options of a courthouse capital project given the project’s size and potential use of a new financing and business arrangement.”
Sounds a lot like there WASN’T the option at that point for us to keep the existing building? Was that ever a real possibility? I doubt I’ll ever know the truth on that. And while I think that the citizens of Howard County who will be bearing the costs for all of this for years to come deserve the truth, I will credit some on the Committee who seemed to be trying to inquire whether we really NEEDED to do this.
NEED is different than WANT.
And, depending on what kind of “house” you are okay with living in, Needs vs Wants comes into the equation when you do as Mr. Sachs suggested. Also, every house is built upon a foundation. Build it on a shaky foundation, and you get problems later (or destruction). The decision to do anything rests first upon the alleged catalyst for the action.
The documents that the County has paid to have created by IMG Rebel for the Committee had a cover sheet, table of contents on page 2, and the following in the “Project Purpose and Need” areas on page 3-4:
“..existing courthouse was built one and half centuries ago..with a few renovations/additions in 1938, 1965, and 1983”
What about the $8.5 in renovations controlled by Mr. Irvin that were reported by the Baltimore Sun in July 2011? How much of THAT work got done? How about the $31.6 million proposed by Ulman for the design and construction to upgrade and renovate the courthouse that was reported by the Baltimore Sun in April 2013?
Project C0290 from fiscal year 2003 has been funded and has had significant sums withdrawn from through the years. It was to originally “renovate the existing courthouse interior and build a new 10,000 square foot, 2 story addition onto the existing structure”. Requests were made of the County Council under the Public Information Act for the legislative testimony that went along with that project. The official response from the Council was that they couldn’t locate any of the testimony. When the request was made for the audio/visual recordings that were in the proposed budget where the project was, the answer was that they couldn’t locate that either. In fact, I was also told that if I wanted to see ANY of the recordings for entire year, they hadn’t been located. Here’s what I have found from the budget on that project:
Skipping past the section on “population growth” and “caseload growth” for a very good reason that will be mentioned later.
The pubic accessibility issue area mentions a small parking lot and one elevator. Hmmm. Well, the expansion plans for the courthouse were going to address parking and a whole lot more, but that part got stopped. As for elevator, a company called “Henry Adams” was the engineer under a company named “Arris” who had a contract to do work at the courthouse. Someone isn’t telling the truth about the number of elevators in the building.
They say “two new elevators”…
And this shows that Arris WAS paid money for work by Howard County in 2011:
Security was to be addressed by the expansion and renovation that now is legitimately being questioned. Without knowing what has and what hasn’t been done to the building with the monies already spent, I don’t know how anyone can intelligently vote on the spending of MORE money. But, continuing on…
“space inadequacy & efficiency loss”:
There is NO 6th judge coming, and there is no NEED for one. So, no space is needed for one. Case load growth and population growth are factored into the Judiciary’s judge need analysis done for the state. Read more about ours, by clicking on “Naughty Judge” at the top of the page.
Sorry, but I’m not reading the rest of the document that we spent all of that money on. Why? Because there’s no NEED. If you want to read it, it’s on the page called “P3 Howard”. But I do see a HUGE NEED to see where the money went, what is truth and what is fiction about our existing courthouse, and what in the world is the RUSH that is causing the project to get speedily advanced through Council? Here are a few legitimate questions:
From that C0290 project file, it says that $8,892,214 was spent from it through February 2018. On what?
The “selection of preferred proposer” for the P3 project wasn’t supposed to be done until September 2018 according to documents obtained through PIA:
And then it changed on the County’s website to “August 2018”:
Only to have the County Exec announce the selection of the winning bidder on June 18, 2018:
Mr. Sachs, thanks for eluding to the fact that this was possibly a POLITICAL issue back in 2016. From where I and other citizens who’ve looked at this are sitting, it sure looks political. The question is, but the truth is that there are MANY questions, why is Howard busting its behind to make this financial decision when the Spending Affordability Advisory Committee released its report this year suggesting that we REDUCE the amount we borrow from general obligation bonds because we need to tighten our spending belt? Property tax increases, and transfer tax increases are suggested too? So, the direction is to price people out of a county that already has some of the highest property taxes in the state?
Let’s call a spade a spade! We can’t afford this courthouse, and as luck would have it we don’t NEED one at this time. Whatever the staff and judges are doing there, is working out BEAUTIFULLY if you look at our numbers compared to the rest of the state. That’s a testament to the great work of everyone in those offices that are making it work. I wonder how many of them don’t live here now, and won’t be able to afford to live here in the future either if we do this?
But, when you have money to spend on a $8500 monthly retainer for a PR firm to help sell the idea of a new courthouse… I suppose you don’t worry about those things despite needed expenditures on flood mitigation in the area!
Just TWO of those PR invoices:
Can’t do much about the money already spent that could (and I will write “should”) have been spent on historic Ellicott City flood issues, but we can sure do something about the money we haven’t spent yet that is up for a vote. I don’t have the invoices for it, but the Council PIA officer told me that over ONE MILLION was given to a New York law firm for consultation about a P3 deal!
Let’s “..act like it’s our house” for real! That means taking a hard look at what is fact and what is fiction, before it’s too late.
To the current County Council: though you will ALL be leaving later this year, I urge you to take time to contemplate what you do and don’t know about this courthouse project. Though I’ve asked under the Public Information Act law for the disclosure of information that would tell the story, I find it incredibly interesting that something with such significance is NOT publicly accessible. It’s no surprise to many of you that I’m a candidate for a job in that building (Clerk of Circuit Court), and I’m sure that doing this will be making me an enemy of many and negatively impact my chance at getting the job. I’m just one of those people that believes in historic Ellicott City, and thinks that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Wrong is wrong, even if many are involved in it, and right is right even if only a few are doing it.
I missed my chance to visit our first courthouse, due to the recent 2018 flood that washed it completely away with no trace. We should be prudent before we make a decision that takes away the second one.
Did anyone know that the current circuit courthouse, and the renovation of it, would have actually HELPED in our stormwater issues downstream in historic Ellicott City? Well, SOME people did now… just many probably didn’t. With the expansion, the following was written about what it was going to do for stormwater management at the top of the hill (the courthouse), courtesy of someone else who had their own PIA fight for information:
A green roof sure does sound nice! And I can’t be sure about this, but I did talk to a guy at the Stormwater division for Howard County who confirmed that there WAS a project for putting a stormwater facility under the parking lot of the current circuit courthouse… but that there wasn’t any info he could share with me because IT GOT TABLED. Was it this money, and why didn’t it get spent on that project if it wasn’t spent on it?
PIA letter from Council to me on the files:
Retention schedule says it should be there:
And the schedule for the time period in question too: