ELKTON — The County Council has unanimously approved three bills calling for the spending of $600,000 in surplus funds to complete two road projects and to renovate Courtroom 3 in the Cecil County Circuit Courthouse.
Approval of the supplemental appropriations came during the Feb. 4 council meeting, after Council President Bob Meffley had introduced the three bills Dec. 17 on behalf of County Executive Alan McCarthy and public hearings had been held on Jan. 21.
The $600,000 is part of a $7.5 million surplus in the FY 2019 budget.
A comprehensive annual financial report recently revealed that the county had windfalls when it came to income, personal property and recordation tax and overestimated staff attrition. The McCarthy administration projected modest economic growth in the FY 2019 budget, but exactly how much was unknown until the tax bills came due.
The council approval of Bill No. 2019-23 on Feb. 4 provides $250,000 of surplus funds to help renovate Courtroom 3 – a project that will have an overall cost of $800,000 to $1 million, according to Matt Barrett, administrator of the Cecil County Circuit Courthouse.
“The design is finished and bids for construction closed Monday,” Barrett told the Cecil Whig.
A bid likely will be approved by March, according to Barrett, who further reported that construction is slated to start sometime in April and is expected to be completed in August.
Cecil County Circuit Court Judge Jane Cairns Murray is assigned to Courtroom 3.
During the construction project, Murray will preside over her courtroom dockets inside the second-floor law library on Tuesdays and inside the first-floor Orphans Court hearing room on the other four weekdays, Barrett outlined.
“The entire courtroom from the public hallway all the way back will be gutted,” Barrett said.
The construction project will yield aesthetic and systems upgrades for Courtroom 3, including new carpeting, new walls, new venting for heating and air-conditioning, a new judge’s bench, new tables for attorneys, a new jury box, new millwork and such, Barrett said.
Safety concerns, however, sparked the construction project.
“We have a security audit performed every two years. The last one completed identified Courtroom 3 as a ‘hotspot’.” Barrett said. “The way it is configured now, the judge’s bench is in close proximity to the witness stand. The witness is an arm’s length away from the judge, which isn’t safe if he or she decides to lash out or act up in some way.”
Along those lines, if there were a violent outburst inside that courtroom, the judge “would not have easy access to escape” under the present layout, he said.
The present configuration also places stenographers and other courtroom employees at risk, Barrett added.
In addition, the present layout raises privacy concerns because a person on the witness stand is able to view paperwork on the judge’s desk, he reported.
Also occurring during the Feb. 4 public meeting, the council approved $200,000 in supplemental appropriations through Bill No. 2019-22, which provides for the completion of the Bethel Church Road Project – which translates to the rehabilitation of a single-span, steel-beam bridge that, constructed in 1968, is 60 feet long, 27 feet wide and carries 889 vehicles daily.
The project will replace the concrete deck, because the original one was showing “advanced deterioration” resulting in several closures for deck repairs, according to the proposal. It also will provide other improvements, including replacing substandard concrete and bridge railings.
In addition, the council approved $150,000 in supplemental appropriations on Feb. 4 though Bill No. 2019-21, which provides for the “emergency replacement” of a culvert on Belvidere Road because the “existing corrugated metal culvert pipe has deteriorated and partially failed and is a risk for complete failure,” according to the proposal.