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Developers' school fees increased

December 01, 2004|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

Following a Tuesday discussion during which Washington County Commissioner John Munson criticized school system officials and interrupted colleagues, the County Commissioners voted unanimously to increase the amount of school fees charged under the county's Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance.

Under the approved change, school fees will increase on Dec. 1 from $7,355 per dwelling unit to $8,500 per dwelling unit in areas where schools are at 85 percent capacity, Public Works Director Gary Rohrer said.

He recommended the increase in the fee amounts because the earlier number did not include site development costs.

The $8,500 fee does not include the cost of land for school sites, Rohrer said.

Developments with prior Washington County Planning Commission final approval won't have to pay the new rate, provided construction of the development is completed within three years, Rohrer said.

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Rohrer said Tuesday's proposal was prompted by several factors, including the Washington County Board of Education's request for an increase in capital funding to address enrollment increases. It also was about time for an annual review of the school fees, Rohrer said.

After the meeting, Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan called the increase "a good start."

During the discussion, Munson interrupted school system officials and other commissioners to argue that the school system should renovate and expand existing schools instead of building new schools on land it acquires.

"Why don't you add on to existing schools instead of trying to use new land?" Munson asked. "You are hurting the existing people living here."

At one point, he said that Conococheague Elementary School could be expanded, a contention disputed by County Commissioner Doris J. Nipps, a former school board member. Nipps said renovation of Conococheague Elementary would not be easy.

"It would be cheaper to blow that place up and start again," Nipps said.

In February 2003, the school board voted to consolidate Maugansville and Conococheague elementary schools at Maugansville and to close Conococheague after construction of the Maugansville school was completed.

School board members have said recently, however, that they should consider the possibility of keeping the school open to help address the enrollment situation.

Munson interrupted Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook at least three times while Snook tried to say that county and school system officials consider renovation and expansion of existing schools before building new schools.

"We are not that dumb that we are not looking at the existing schools," Snook said.

"I did not say they are dumb," Munson replied. "So don't tell me that crap."

Snook did not respond to that comment.

Munson asked why the school system has to limit class sizes in middle schools and high schools to 25 students. There were 30 to 40 students per class when he went to school and that worked out fine, Munson said.

Snook said he did not think local residents would want the average class size to increase.

Munson said they also would not want to see taxes go up to pay for new schools.

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