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County: Municipalities should adopt building fees to pay for school growth

October 05, 2004|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

With an increasing school enrollment, the Washington County Commissioners say municipalities could play a key role in making sure the county has money for new schools or school expansions.

The County Commissioners have asked municipalities to require residential developers to pay fees to build in some areas, similar to the county's Adequate Pubic Facilities Ordinance (APFO) fee.

The county's APFO fee for schools requires that residential developers pay $7,355 per dwelling unit if they want to build in areas where school enrollment is at 85 percent capacity or more.

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Revenue collected from the APFO fee goes toward funding new schools or adding classrooms as school capacity increases in those areas.

Washington County only collects fees from areas in the county's jurisdiction because the county doesn't have the authority to do so within municipal limits.

"Some way we need help from the municipalities to ... deal with growth within their own boundaries," Commissioner Doris J. Nipps said in an interview last week.

"It should have been done yesterday," Nipps said of municipalities adopting building fees. "If they haven't started that process, we'll maybe have to sit down and have a discussion about that."

Nipps and Commissioner James F. Kercheval said Washington County Public Schools has several hundred new students this school year - equal to the size of an elementary school.

"These kids are entitled to a seat on the bus ... and a seat in a school in a decent-size classroom," Nipps said.

Kercheval and Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell said in interviews last week that the commissioners might talk about whether to pursue a countywide impact fee with the Washington County Delegation to the Maryland General Assembly this legislative session.

Lawmakers would have to approve such a tax during the legislative session before the commissioners may enact one.

"I think there will probably be a discussion of that," Wivell said.

Last year, the commissioners approved transfer and excise taxes, and some of that revenue goes toward school construction projects. The transfer tax is charged to the transfer of property, and the excise tax is charged to new construction.

Wivell said another fee, such as an impact fee, might not be needed if municipalities choose to collect their own building fees.

Impact fees also would require developers to pay for the impact of growth on county services and facilities.

Smithsburg Mayor Mildred "Mickey" Myers said town officials are taking growth seriously and will soon have some type of building fee in place for schools.

Town officials have discussed the issue at several workshops, she said.

The fee might not be the same as the fee set by the county, but, "We're heading down a path of where we want to go," Myers said last week.

"We do have to do something ... you can't have your local people paying for what this growth is doing," Myers said.

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