By Linda Cicoria
Accomack County Administrator Mike Mason plans to discuss “long term planning and a significant financial commitment” for office and other space needs when supervisors convene Wednesday.
In a report, Mason said revenue projections show an additional $7.5 million in new debt could be issued without impacting the current tax rate.
“The county’s current debt load is minimal, borrowing rates are at all-time lows, and there are several strategies that we can use to minimize the impact on taxpayers. Mason including leveraging a cigarette tax.. “The longer we defer embarking on a comprehensive solution to address space needs, the more expensive the ultimate solution is going to be,” Mason wrote.
The administrator recommended a consultant assist in the evaluation that would include facility inspections, development of future needs, and preparation of conceptual plans for options including estimated costs.
This would not be the first time the space needs issue has been studied by experts.
Mason will be asking for the board’s support in the endeavor.
Prior to the pandemic there was overcrowding. “Undoubtedly, our space needs have changed due to COVID-19,” said Mason. “What we have learned … that portions of the workforce can effectively work from home negating the need for office space in some instances. However, we have also learned the importance of creating workspaces and customer areas with ample room and proper egress to accommodate social distancing.
Mason said many board members think the solution is to renovate the existing library, in Accomac, for use by school administration and staff. “It is certainly a start,” he said. “But it is not going to solve the situation we have currently which grows harder to manage by the day.”
His list includes the possibility of Accomack criminal jury trials being held in Northampton County due to the inability to social distance when a large number of jurors are present. “This will not only be inconvenient for our residents, but also costly for the county,” which would be “required to provide security services.” Mason said, “It brings into question the suitability of our newly renovated courthouse in a post-pandemic world.”
Up to five employees from the treasurer’s and assessor’s offices work in the Emergency Operations Center every day “due to our inability to properly space them in the administration building,” Mason wrote.
Rehab of the 911 center to accommodate security and Americans with Disabilities Act access is underway. The Cooperative Extension Program will also be moved so that the 911 center can expand its dispatch floor when necessary.
The sheriff is outfitting 22 deputies with body cameras. This becomes a space needs consideration because a new state act requires a new entry-level commonwealth’s attorney for every 75 body cameras in use by law enforcement personnel. Mason said, the prosecutor has not yet made a request under the act. The commonwealth’s attorney’s office does not have a conference room, let alone more office space. The environmental, finance and IT offices also cannot house its full staff without violating social distancing requirements.
Both judges have expressed their desire to implement pre-trial services in Accomack, a program that is in place in just about every other locality in the state, Mason said. This program will likely require two more full-time employees, if it is approved, “yet we have no place to put them,” the administrator added.