There's a reason we can't fund schools

October 28, 2007|By JOE LANE

All children, be they gifted in art or challenged by the hand life has dealt them, deserve to have a quality education. Washington County could easily afford to provide this if the commissioners would require developers to pay a fair share of the cost for schools, roads, etc.

Instead, these commissioners have provided an endless array of loopholes and negotiated exemptions that let the developers avoid paying theses costs. These commissioners have shortchanged the school system repeatedly, but developers continue to have their way.

There is no excuse for the overcrowding we are experiencing today. Citizen groups have been sounding the alarm for too long and these commissioners continue to put the interest of developers first.

Nothing illustrates this better than the decision not to fund Antietam Academy. Why is there no money for Antietam Academy? County Commissioner Kristin Aleshire explained; "We have to prioritize what the needs and desires of this community are." The Washington County Commissioners have made their priorities clear. These commissioners found millions of dollars to spend on the airport.


The Oct. 7 Herald-Mail identified $65 million worth of road projects in the pipeline. Taxpayers will pay for these roads because developers were only charged a small fraction of the cost for these roads. It seems every half-baked scheme that will benefit a developer finds millions of taxpayer dollars to make it happen.

Yet when the children most in need of a decent educational facility ask for funding, the commissioners can't find a penny.

Hundreds of citizens have spoken from every community in this county telling the commissioners that schools are overcrowded, in need of repair and cannot handle the new development. I think it is clear what the "desires of the community are."

Why is there no money for Antietam Academy? Where did the record amount of property tax revenue go? Why is this county in record debt? These commissioners are allowing this county to be unnecessarily bankrupted because it will not charge developers a fair share of the costs.

New development brings new children into the school system and puts more cars on the roads. Every new house requires one new classroom seat at a cost of between $30,000 and $50,000 ($40,000 average). Currently, the commissioners charge developers $13,000 per house. If you do the math, you discover that every new house costs the taxpayers of this county at least $27,000. I say at least, because the commissioners have provided a set of loopholes and exemptions that have some developers paying as little as $450 according to county planning staff.

Numerous civic groups and columnists pointed out that these exemptions and loopholes would lead to massive underfunding of schools and roads, but the commissioners ignored and continue to ignore these groups. This is why there is no money for Antietam Academy.

To address the funding shortfall, the commissioners appointed the "Excise Tax Committee" and stacked it with developers. As predicted by civic groups, the committee recommended further developer discounts. While the committee did recommend the elimination of some of the loopholes (a good thing), they replaced the loopholes with a $2-per-square-foot excise tax. Developers are cheering this decision. A 4,000-square-foot home will only cost developers $8,000 instead of the current $13,000 and the taxpayers will be charged the remaining $32,000.

Under this ridiculous $2-per-square foot scheme, the average sized home would need to be 20,000 square feet just to cover the cost of the classroom space. If a small, 1,500-square-foot house were built, a giant, 38,500 square foot home (the size of a grocery store) would need to be built to pick up the funding shortfall.

This is what you get when you appoint a committee dominated by foxes to draft a plan for guarding the chicken coop. I find it difficult to understand how a group of intelligent people could conclude that $2 per square foot was in the best interest of the citizens of Washington County.

The children in need of a quality educational facility deserve better. A classroom seat costs an average of $40,000 and the average size of a new home is 4,000 square feet (according to The Herald-Mail). Simple calculations show an excise tax of $10 per square foot would cover the cost for the schools. Roads, sewers, police, fire rescue, parks etc. would need to be added to this figure.

The Antietam Academy situation is tragic on many levels. These commissioners are completely uninformed about the role of Antietam Academy. Because of this, children will be denied a quality educational facility and taxpayers will pay extra.

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