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Commissioners reject board's bond proposal

October 22, 2003|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

The Washington County Commissioners agreed Tuesday not to take to legislators a Board of Education proposal that the School Board be given authority to issue $25 million in bonds.

The County Commissioners spent less than a minute on the topic.

The commissioners began discussing the county's legislative agenda about 20 minutes behind schedule, which left them with about 40 minutes before lunch to talk about the 14-item list of requests from various county departments.

When they got to the School Board's bonding proposal, Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook asked each of the commissioners whether they were interested in supporting it.

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All but Commissioner James F. Kercheval said they were not interested, and Snook said the proposal would be removed from the list of requests they would present to the Washington County Delegation to the Maryland General Assembly.

The commissioners then moved on to the next topic on the list.

Snook said after the meeting that he didn't think the School Board would take issue with the amount of time the commissioners spent discussing the bonding proposal.

"I don't think they'll be upset," Snook said.

"I think it's unfortunate because this was a great way to meet the needs of students without affecting the county's bond rate," said School Board President Bernadette M. Wagner. "I'm disappointed."

The school system's chief operating officer William Blum said "It's unfortunate that they've dismissed it. It's an opportunity lost to enhance the school construction efforts at minimum marginal interest costs."

The School Board had asked to be given the authority to issue bonds to get additional construction money for the school system. The bonds would be paid off over a 25-year period at $1.7 million a year, school officials have said.

The school system needs $80 million in construction money for repairs to aging schools and other projects, and the bonds would provide the means to fund them, school officials have said.

The School Board would need enabling legislation from the Maryland General Assembly to issue the bonds, and the commissioners would have to approve through a resolution all bond issuances, Blum has said.

Some commissioners expressed concern last month during a joint meeting with the School Board that the county would be stuck with the bill if the School Board was unable to repay the bonds.

Commissioner John C. Munson said at that meeting that he thought the commissioners should be the only governing body in the county to issue bonds.

Snook said after Tuesday's meeting that that was a common feeling among the commissioners.

"The commissioners want to be responsible for going after these bonds," Snook said.

Snook said the commissioners want the School Board to have more capital, or construction money, but that they will have to discuss at a later date how to come up with those funds.

He said it's probable that the school system will receive increased dollars from the commissioners through the county's recently enacted excise and transfer tax revenues.

Snook said the School Board could receive additional money through $50 million in bonds for which the commissioners are seeking legislative approval.

That bond money will go toward general county expenses, Snook said.

He said, however, he didn't think the county's contribution would total the $25 million the School Board wanted to obtain through bonds.

The School Board also has asked the commissioners to increase their annual allocation toward construction projects from $5.9 million to $10 million.




Staff writer Pepper Ballard contributed to this story.

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