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October 30, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Local government officials on Friday renewed their concerns for the need to pay for new school construction and what is forecast to be increasingly tight budgets during a meeting with a group of local business leaders.

The Greater Hagerstown Committee invited members of the Washington County Commissioners and the Hagerstown Mayor and City Council for a morning meeting at Robinwood Medical Center to discuss local policy issues, including education, transportation and economic development.

The Greater Hagerstown Committee is comprised of about 60 local business leaders, many of whom are connected with other local community groups.

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The commissioners who attended the meeting said there were several points of concern over education funding.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said that a statewide budget report recommended an increase in statewide school construction spending of more than $100 million during the next eight years. But that spending has not been recommended to be placed in Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich's budget, Snook said.

Commissioner Doris J. Nipps said there is a possibility the county will have to assume up to $9.5 million in new expenses to cover teacher retirement, a cost the state currently assumes.

"If this commission has to absorb that or anything larger than that, then the operating (portion of the budget) is going to be difficult," Nipps said.

The schools issue arose from a position the Greater Hagerstown Committee took advocating a standardized fee structure for new development to help pay for schools, roads and other public facilities.

The county recently instituted a policy aiming to do just that, although its adequate public facilities ordinance is limited.

It does not give the authority to collect money in municipalities, such as the City of Hagerstown, and the money collected only goes to schools and roads.

The county soon will begin working with local towns to try to establish similar fee structures, Snook said.

Hagerstown Mayor William M. Breichner said the city is awaiting a study from a consultant the city hired to assess those types of fees, and he received authority from the council to begin working with the county to develop its own development fees.

Some Greater Hagerstown Committee members said they were concerned with the city and county's approach.

With the approach officials currently are taking, Greater Hagerstown member John Newby said there's "no uniform mechanism for assessing the impact. ... We would like a more uniform system that would allow for someone coming into this community (to know) what they would be facing" cost-wise.

Greater Hagerstown Committee member Peter Perini, also a local developer, said he believed government should be more willing to shoulder upfront costs for developers.

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