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School fees may boost recreation costs

February 18, 2004|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

If the Washington County Board of Education makes the county pay to use its facilities, families would have to pay higher fees so their children could participate in the county's recreational programs, County Commissioner Doris J. Nipps said Tuesday.

The County Commissioners are concerned that the school board will choose not to renew an agreement with the commissioners, which states the county can use its facilities at no charge.

That agreement, which was approved in 1997, expires this month.

Nipps raised the issue at the Washington County Commissioners meeting, shortly after she had spoken with school board Chief Operating Officer William Blum.

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Washington County provides several programs for youths in county schools and on school playgrounds.

The school board voted in August 2003 to revise an existing policy on the use of school facilities, adding some fees and increasing others. The commissioners voiced concerns about the revisions at that time, and "the board of education backed down" by deciding not to charge the county, Nipps said.

She told the commissioners Tuesday that deciding now to charge the county would violate the 1997 agreement.

"We have an agreement, and evidently, this is another instance of trying to go around that agreement," Nipps said.

She said the school board in 1997 agreed to let the county use its facilities at no charge, after the school board asked that the county pay for an employee to schedule requests from all area groups to use the schools.

The commissioners agreed to pay for that position, which continues to be funded by the county.

Blum said Tuesday night that the agreement hasn't changed.

The school board's former director of facilities management, Dennis McGee, recommended in November 2003 that the school board not renew the agreement, according to a Facilities Committee report McGee wrote.

Some other commissioners said Tuesday they were unhappy with the school board's policy revisions.

"We pay for the schools," Commissioner James F. Kercheval said during the meeting.

Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell said Tuesday night that charging the county would be like "biting the hand that feeds you."

"It's like Greg Snook said, we'll just deduct that from whatever we give them," Wivell said.

Snook, the commissioners president, made that suggestion during the meeting.

Nipps said the county should be part of a school board-appointed task force to study the fees. She noted that "tax dollars did build those schools."

"The school buildings actually belong to the county," Nipps said after the meeting. "They don't belong to the school system."

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