Frederick County Council President M.C. Keegan-Ayer affirmed in a letter to her counterpart on the city's Board of Aldermen that the council intends to vote Tuesday on a bid for a $20 million property.
The council president’s reply — sent as a letter Monday to Kelly Russell, president pro tem of the Board of Aldermen — follows letters from several city leaders asking for a postponement of the vote, which could bring the county one step closer to obtaining the 26-acre site at 800 Oak St. off U.S. Route 15.
“If the Council chooses to delay the vote, the opportunity to purchase this site will be lost,” Keegan-Ayer (D) said in her letter to Russell, and in a similar version sent to the mayor. “Therefore, I doubt there will be a delay.”
If the council votes to approve the bid, the county plans to finalize its purchase Friday. If the deal isn’t settled by then, the Miami-based private equity firm selling the property — which includes a 209,000-square-foot facility currently being used for COVID-19 vaccination clinics — will move on to another bidder, the county’s chief administrative officer, Rick Harcum, said.
County officials have said they hope to use the property to relocate the 911 call center, expedite the construction of a library on the west side of the city and centralize some government services. Capital projects dependent on the county purchasing land or erecting buildings — like the call center or the library — would move forward quicker and be less expensive by using the Oak Street facilities, according to county documents.
Total costs, including preparing the roofing for solar panels, would bring the final price tag to $32 million. The county hopes to offset a chunk of the site’s $20 million property cost — which doesn’t include costs beyond acquiring the property — by consolidating operations and improving efficiency to bring the net cost to between $7 million and $8 million, according to county officials.
Those opposed to the bid have claimed the county is rushing its acquisition and neglecting to consult the public. County officials have said they notified the public as soon as they could. Harcum said the county had to wait for the end of a three-month due diligence process in which engineering and environmental assessments were completed before making the bid public.
Calls for a delay began Oct. 4, when four of the five aldermen — including Russell (D), Derek Shackelford (D), Donna Kuzemchak (D) and Ben MacShane (D) -- and a leading alderman candidate, Katie Nash, signed and emailed a letter to the council expressing their disapproval of the process. Russell also sent an individual letter, as did Nash (D) and Frederick Mayor Michael O’Connor (D).
Neither O’Connor nor Russell could be reached for comment Monday.
By acquiring the property, O’Connor said in his letter, the county would strip the city of property tax revenue from a “sizable, highly visible, highway facing property." The most recent property tax bill due to the city for the Oak Street facility was more than $76,500, according to documents from the county treasury. By purchasing the property, the county would also be removing nearly $100,000 from its own property tax income.
In interviews with The News-Post last week, O’Connor said the acquisition appeared to him to be moving forward too quickly, and he wanted to ensure the county did its due diligence before bidding on the property.
O'Connor acknowledged the county wasn't obligated to honor requests from him and other city leaders.
“It’s not our decision to make,” the mayor said, referring to city government.
In their letters, city leaders also asked the county to provide documentation of analysis from county staff or other entities regarding the property. But the county isn’t permitted, even under the Public Information Act, to provide the city with the requested documentation until after the settlement planned for Friday, Keegan-Ayer said in her letter to city officials. County Attorney Bryon Black affirmed the statement.
“The county and the city can differ in our views on the best use of the property, and each elected body can differ in the process used to achieve its end goal of purchasing property it needs,” Keegan-Ayer said in her letter to the mayor. “But I would assert that Council’s process has been open and transparent.”