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Jefferson County voters to decide on bond

August 01, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

Despite the county's hesitance to begin assessing impact fees, Jefferson County voters will be asked next spring to approve a bond call to help raise money to build a new high school and renovate Jefferson High School.

Board of Education President Lori Stilley declined to say how much money will be sought through the bond, saying she first wants to present it to fellow board members at their meeting Tuesday night.

The bond call will be on the primary election ballot in May.

In a discussion about impact fees during the Jefferson County Commission meeting Thursday morning, Stilley told commissioners about the planned bond call.

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She also asked commissioners to publicly state that they plan to begin assessing impact fees. Such a statement could help persuade voters that the crux of building schools does not rest with their pocketbooks, she said.

"The question (of assessing impact fees) is out there. No one's really sure if it's going to happen or not," Stilley told the commissioners.

Impact fees are charged to developers when they build homes. The money is used to help pay for infrastructure, such as schools, roads, water and sewer service, and fire and police services.

Although most commissioners said they support the idea of impact fees, they voted 3-2 against announcing they definitely will implement them.

Commission President Jane Tabb said she favors impact fees, but wants all of her questions answered first to avoid having the matter end up in court.

"Too often, I've found the devil is in the details," Tabb said.

Tabb said her questions include how the fees will be collected, whether the school board's Capital Improvement Plan will pass legal muster and whether an intergovernmental agreement should be secured with the municipalities in regard to assessing impact fees.

Commissioners Al Hooper, James G. Knode and Tabb voted against announcing that the commission will implement the fees. Commissioners Greg Corliss and Rusty Morgan voted for it.

A report done by Maryland-based Tischler and Associates concluded that developers should be charged an impact fee of $8,300 per single-family home, Stilley said.

With 600 building permits issued last year, the county could have collected more than $4 million - or more than $13,000 a day, Stilley said.

"Every day is another lag," Stilley said.

The last time the Jefferson County Board of Education sought a bond call, in September 2000, voters rejected it by a 2-1 margin. At that time, the school board sought $39 million, including money for a second high school. The new school is expected to cost $30 million to $32 million, Stilley has said.

Along with a bond and impact fees, a third funding source remains open to school board members - the state School Building Authority.

Funding from that agency, however, has been scarce.

Four months ago, the SBA announced that is was not going to fund any of Jefferson County's $15 million request.

A total of $10 million would have been earmarked for the new school and $5 million would have been spent renovating Jefferson High, which was built more than 30 years ago, Stilley said.

Renovations are planned in the school's cafeteria, auditorium and library. A couple of classrooms may be added, Stilley said.

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