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The Worcester County Commissioners and Sheriff Matt Crisafulli discussed the feasibility $32.6 million public safety building on Tuesday, following that project’s inclusion in the FY2023-27 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP).

The specific need, according to Crisafulli, is for upgraded facilities in a county that has grown considerably over the last generation.

“We’ve been outgrowing this space for some years now,” Crisafulli said. “When (the current office) was built (around 20 years ago), we were at approximately 50 deputies. … We’re up to 96 sworn pins … We’re potentially going from 50 deputies in 2001 to 100 deputies in let’s say 2022 coming up.”

“We’re running out of space. We’re taking closet space to make offices.”

The new facility in the CIP would put the building around the vicinity of the county jail on Joyner Road in Snow Hill with easy access to Route 113. It is proposed that the facility would house the Department of Emergency Services — including 911 dispatch — as well.

Preliminary discussions have also considered the State’s Attorney Office, Children’s Advocacy Center and the Fire Marshall’s Office as tenants.

Crisafulli added that the current location of the Sheriff’s Office — in the courthouse basement — is not ideal for easy interfacing with the public.

“It would be easier access for our residents to have a centrally located public safety building,” Crisafulli said. “I think that we need to be out in the public’s eye instead of in the basement where we’re not as accessible.”

Commissioner Chip Bertino concurred that the current location in a basement is far from adequate and looked for a timeline from Crisafulli and Chief Administrative Officer Weston Young.

“God forbid we ever have a flood,” he said. “What’s the timeline for this to be done? Are you looking at five, 10 years?”

Young replied that the estimate is currently four to five years, to which Bertino asked if the reality of prior commitments to other big-ticket items like replacing Buckingham Elementary School and possible Snow Hill Elementary School renovations would affect funding.

“(Our finance team is) looking at it now,” Young said.”

In the meantime, Crisafulli said that the Sheriff’s Office will “do the best we can” over the next couple of years as planning for the new facility progresses.

“This is future growth and planning for where we’re going to be with all the unfunded mandates (coming) and bringing in extra support staff,” he said, “And our projections also are that potentially within the next 10 years we may have just as many support staff as we do sworn personnel just to keep up with the changing times.”

Commissioner Ted Elder offered a tempered point of view about what these improvements could mean for the county.

“This is something that we have to look forward to, trying to figure out where we’re going to get funding for it. It’s certainly something I would think needs to be done,” Elder said. “We’re going to have some tough times ahead. It might destroy some of the plans that others had like the sports complex … the only way we’re going to be able to sustain these kinds of costs is really tighten our belts a lot. I just hope we don’t end up like some of the other counties that have such a high rate of taxes. I’m looking forward to finding out what the actual plans are going to be.”

This story appears in the print version of Ocean City Today on Nov. 19, 2021.

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