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Arundel councilman floats plan to create fund for new high school

Anne Arundel County Councilman Jamie Benoit this week proposed a way to drum up money to build a new high school in the county — a school that has been supported by parents in the Crofton area.

Benoit wants to tap an obscure provision in the county's charter to create a dedicated fund to hold money for building a high school and repairing aging schools. He said the plan calls for diverting a portion of income tax the county receives into the fund.

He said if he's successful in passing a bill to create the fund and funnel the money, he would follow up with a tax increase during budget negotiations in May to compensate the county's general fund for the money diverted to schools. He said he hasn't figured out exactly how much of a tax increase the move would require.

Benoit's bill, as drafted, would take 2.5 percent of the local income tax that the county receives from taxpayers per year. The local income tax rate is 2.56 percent for Anne Arundel residents.

For an individual with a taxable income of $50,000, for example, the 2.56 percent local income tax amounts to $1,280 that goes to the county government. Under Benoit's bill, $32 of that $1,280 would automatically go into the school fund.

Benoit estimated his plan would set aside at least $10 million per year into the new fund, which could be used to issue bonds for designing and building a new school.

"In five years, we could be cutting a ribbon at a new school," said Benoit, a Crownsville Democrat.

Benoit, who is not running for re-election to the council this year, said his bill is as much about finding a way to fund a new high school — a wish of Crofton and west county residents for years — as it is about forcing his fellow politicians to show how invested they are in making a new school a reality.

"People in this county expect a certain quality of life, and this will test their representatives' desire to pay for it," Benoit said.

Bob Mosier, a school system spokesman, said he isn't sure Benoit's idea is a good one, because he said it seemed to take the decision of when and where to build schools out of the hands of the Board of Education.

"We cannot revert to the days of construction choices for political reasons or to satisfy the loudest advocates," Mosier said.

Mosier also cautioned that school construction projects funded outside of the normal protocol could be ineligible for state contributions.

Jonathan Boniface, an organizer of a group called Build Crofton High School, said he appreciates Benoit's "out-of-the-box thinking" but is unsure whether a tax increase would be feasible in Anne Arundel, where many residents advocate for low taxes.

Boniface, a father of two daughters who attend Crofton Meadows Elementary School, said rapid growth in west county has led to the need for an additional high school.

"There's no question a high school is needed," he said.

The bill is scheduled to be introduced at the county council's meeting Monday, although Benoit said this week he is not scheduled to be in attendance.

Benoit's bill is tentatively scheduled for a public hearing before the County Council on April 7. He has no co-sponsors.

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