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Wagner: Schools should get funds from new tax

February 10, 2003|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Washington County Board of Education President Bernadette Wagner has asked the local delegation to the Maryland General Assembly to increase the amount of a proposed transfer tax and devote all the money the tax generates to education.

The Washington County Commissioners have asked state lawmakers for the power to impose a transfer tax on real estate transactions. Most of the revenue would be used for school construction, and the remainder would go to public safety, debt reduction and agricultural land preservation.

The delegation voted on Jan. 29 to seek a bill permitting the imposition of the tax. The bill would allow the county to collect a 0.5 percent transfer tax on real estate transactions over four years.

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The tax would generate $750 on a $150,000 house.

Wagner asked in a Jan. 31 letter to Del. Robert McKee, R-Washington, that the transfer tax rate be increased to at least 1 percent.

She wrote that if the rate were raised and all the revenue given to education, the School Board could pay for the consolidation of Maugansville and Conococheague elementary schools and other education needs.

School Board member Roxanne Ober said the school system would save $400,000 to $500,000 a year as a result of the consolidation.

"This is just one example in a long list of needs that the Board of Education is currently confronting and would be better able to address with this proposed dedicated revenue," Wagner wrote.

She said the school system is facing large expenditures to meet the requirements in President Bush's "No Child Left Behind" education act.

One of those requirements is that school systems provide all-day kindergarten at all schools within five years. That would require adding classrooms, officials have said.

Most elementary schools in Washington County offer half-day kindergarten. Ober said the change to all-day kindergarten will cost $2 million a year over the five years.

Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said the school system will not be able to meet the requirements of Bush's education plan without a significant increase in funding from the county in the next fiscal year. She said it was up to the commissioners to decide how to generate the money.

Sen. Donald Munson, R-Washington, said the delegation has agreed to the terms of a transfer tax bill and he didn't think the bill would include Wagner's request.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook and Commissioner Doris J. Nipps said they do not support the tax dollars going only to education.

"We're going to have to have a balance on this ..." Snook said.

Nipps said she would like the delegation to give the commissioners the authority to tax up to 1 percent, but that the revenue should be spread among the county's needs.

"There are other needs besides education, and I think we need to look at that," she said.

Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, said he doesn't support the transfer tax and could not comment on how the revenue should be spent.

"My view is that Washington County citizens are already overtaxed, and I won't support raising their taxes any more," Mooney said.

Commissioner John C. Munson said he opposes Wagner's request, because it would not benefit the county. He said reducing the county's debt and preserving farmland are also priorities.

Munson said if Wagner's request becomes law the commissioners should not impose the tax.

Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell said he hadn't made up his mind on whether he supports a transfer tax.

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