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Board seeks plan for funding

October 23, 2003|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Some Washington County Board of Education members have a question for the County Commissioners: What's the plan?

School Board members said Wednesday they want to hear how the commissioners plan to come up with additional money to pay for renovations to aging schools, a day after the commissioners dismissed the school system's idea.

School Board members had asked the commissioners to back their proposal that the School Board be given the authority to issue $25 million in bonds, which would help pay for an $80 million backlog in school renovations and repairs.

The Maryland General Assembly would have to give the School Board bonding authority, and the commissioners would approve the issuances through a resolution, School Board Chief Operating Officer William Blum has said.

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The School Board had said it would cost $1.7 million a year to repay the bonds.

But the commissioners rejected the proposal Tuesday after spending less than a minute on the topic.

Had the School Board sold bonds, the state would have made the annual $1.7 million repayment, and deducted that amount from the School Board's state allocation.

Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell said Wednesday that the commissioners would end up making up for the $1.7 million difference in the amount the School Board would receive from the state, which was a reason he didn't support the School Board having bonding authority.

"I was very disappointed that they didn't go ahead with it," School Board member Princeton Young said. "Now, we wait and see what kind of plan they have for increasing our money."

"I would challenge them to come to us with solutions," School Board member Roxanne Ober said.

Wivell and Commissioner Doris J. Nipps said Wednesday that the School Board will receive capital money through transfer and excise tax revenues, a claim also made by Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook on Tuesday.

Wivell and Nipps said the commissioners are in the process of revising the county's Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance, which helps ensure schools, roads and other infrastructure are adequate to handle growth.

Under the proposed revisions, developers may be required to pay as much as $6,500 per dwelling unit if they build in areas where elementary schools are at 85 percent capacity, they said.

That money would go toward additional classrooms and other school improvements, the commissioners said.

Nipps said the School Board also may receive some of the county's $2.8 million fiscal year 2003 surplus for the planned renovations to Salem Avenue Elementary School.

Nipps said those increases would be in addition to what the commissioners contributed to the School Board's current budget.

"The Board of County Commissioners certainly should be applauded for supporting education," Nipps said. "The Board of Education did very well in a very bad budget year."

Wivell said it was too early to tell how much of an increase the School Board will receive for construction projects, but said he didn't think it would match the proposed bond amount.

"I think it's safe to say it won't be $25 million," Wivell said. "I suppose it's safe to say it won't even be $10 million."

The School Board has asked the commissioners to increase their annual contribution to the school system's capital budget from $5.9 million this fiscal year to $10 million a year over the next several years.

School Board member Jacqueline Fischer said that even if that happens, without the bonds the school system will need more than $10 million a year to cover its capital needs.

She said she thought the chance of the School Board receiving more than $10 million a year from the commissioners was slim.

"There's no sense asking for $20 million when we're not going to get it, especially with their pet project, the runway," Fischer said.

"I really hope that the schools would be a priority as the airport is in their financial planning," Ober said.

The commissioners in May voted to extend the runway at Hagerstown Regional Airport, a $60 million project.

Wivell said Fischer makes a good point and that the runway project could affect the amount of funding the commissioners allocate toward other capital projects.

While the federal and state governments will pay for most of the runway project, he said it's estimated the county will have to pay between $8 million and $10 million in financing costs.

"It could be a tremendous drain on the county's finances," Wivell said.

Nipps said schools and the airport are important to the commissioners, and that both help boost economic development in the county.

Fischer said the School Board will continue to push the commissioners for funding for school renovations.

"We've got some schools that are in bad shape," she said. "We will not go away. We're going to keep at them with it."

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