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Dougherty says schools need input on growth issues

January 26, 2000|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Considering the growth that is expected to come to the Eastern Panhandle, Jefferson County Board of Education member Pete Dougherty believes there should be a collective effort among local governments to prepare.

Dougherty envisions a "council of governments" that would meet periodically talk about transportation plans, school funding and zoning issues.

It would not be a body that would "control and govern," but simply a clearinghouse for information, helping school boards, county commissions and other organizations make the best decisions that affect their operations, Dougherty said.

"We don't have a collective view of what this county should be. I think that's a real problem," he said.

Jefferson County Commission President James G. Knode said Dougherty's idea makes sense.

It is better to share ideas rather than depend on "happenstance," Knode said.

On Thursday, the board of education and the Jefferson County Commission will meet to discuss key issues in the county.

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The Board of Education is particularly interested in the county's move toward implementing building codes and whether that will lead to implementation of impact fees, Dougherty said.

Under state law, a county must meet a number of requirements before it can implement impact fees. Building codes and zoning are among them.

Impact fees are charged to developers to help offset the higher costs generated by population increases, including extra fire and police protection and new schools.

The Board of Education wants to know how it might receive funding from the fees if they are implemented, Dougherty said.

The commission is considering implementing building codes, but there is some concern over the issue, according to Knode. Knode said the way he reads the state law, impact fees can only be implemented if building codes are enforced on both new and existing structures.

Making existing structures comply with the codes could require extra staffing, Knode said.

"That's a concern to me," Knode said.

At the same time, Knode said he understands the Board of Education's interest in finding as many funding sources as possible.

School officials have said they will need $52 million to build enough schools to handle the county's projected student population growth over the next 10 years.

Other county residents have been thinking about ways to increase student funding.

Shepherdstown resident Paul Burke suggested that a certain amount of lots in each subdivision be turned over to the Board of Education. The board could sell the lots to raise money for school needs, Burke said.

Burke said state law recommends that applications for subdivisions should only be approved if the developments provide "fair allocations" for streets, parks and schools.

Burke said local officials often complain that state laws hurt their ability to govern. In this case, it seems the reverse is true, said Burke.

"It looks like the state is telling us to do it," Burke said.

The meeting between the commissioners and the Board of Education will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday in the county meeting room beside the Jefferson County Courthouse.

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