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Suit holding up Jefferson school bond sale

September 03, 2004|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA. - Jefferson County Schools officials said Thursday night that funding for a new high school and a renovation of Jefferson High School are threatened because the school board has been included as a party in a lawsuit over the collection of school impact fees in the county.

The suit, filed by the Jefferson County Commission, alleges the city of Charles Town has been issuing building permits without collecting school impact fees as an ordinance requires. The suit alleges the town has instead been charging developers a "voluntary proffer" fee.

The commissioners are asking in the suit that the city abide by its impact fee law.

During a hearing on the case Wednesday, Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Thomas W. Steptoe Jr. ruled that the Jefferson County Board of Education also will be a party in the suit, said Board of Education President Lori Stilley.

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That affects the new high school project and renovation of Jefferson High School because the bonds that voters approved in May to pay for the projects cannot be sold, Stilley said.

Any time an entity like the school board is involved in litigation, it prevents the board from selling bonds, Stilley said.

During a school board meeting Thursday night, board members passed a resolution asking for a quick resolution to the suit. A quick resolution is important for the children of the county, school board members said.

After the meeting, Superintendent of Schools R. Steven Nichols expressed aggravation over the delays in the county's school impact fee system.

"Enough is enough," Nichols said.

In addition to the $19 million bond issue approved by voters, the litigation also affects the school system's ability to secure other funding for the school improvement project, which will cost about $48 million, school board members said.

The school system cannot receive $6 million from the state Economic Development Grant Committee until the bonds are sold, Stilley said.

And the school board must use $19 million it was awarded by the state School Building Authority within two years or it risks losing it, Stilley said.

"Settle this suit for the benefit of the county," Stilley said.

Stilley said she did not know why Steptoe made the school board a party to the case.

Jefferson County Commissioner Greg Corliss, who was reached after the meeting, said he believed the county and Charles Town are close to an agreement on the suit.

Corliss said he believes the differences between the two sides are "very slight."

County Commission President Al Hooper said "we're still trying" to reach an agreement, but it is hard to predict when the matter will be resolved.

"It would be guesswork and I don't want to be quoted with guesswork," Hooper said.

Charles Town Mayor Randy Hilton said he could not go into specifics about the suit, but said he is "hopeful for a settlement. It's too important of an issue to not resolve," Hilton said.

School impact fees, which county officials started collecting on Jan. 26, are designed to help fund school construction projects needed because of population growth.

Developers have to pay $7,122 for every new single-family home and mobile home they put up, $5,562 for every townhouse or duplex and $4,040 for every multi-family dwelling.

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