Saying Harford's school system desperately needs proceeds from a proposed tax on real estate transfers, the county school board has unanimously backed the measure.
The board's 5-0 vote Monday marked the first time it has voted on a resolution on county legislation, said Anne D. Sterling, school board president.
"We feel there is a real danger that the transfer tax might not pass," she said.
Harford's school system expects enrollment to rise from 33,800 to 41,000 in the next six years and is preparing to embark on its most ambitious school construction plan, said Albert F. Seymour, school spokesman.
Money from the transfer tax is vital to pay for land and the new schools, he said.
The school system estimates it will build one school a year for the next 10 years, he said. And that doesn't include money for desperately needed renovations and roof replacements on older buildings, he said.
The transfer tax would amount to 1 percent of a property's value, excluding the first $30,000, and would be levied whenever a residential property changes hands. For example, the tax on a $100,000 house would be $700.
Proceeds would be split evenly between land preservation and capital projects for schools, including building schools, site acquisition, major renovations and additions.
The school system's estimated capital budget, which includes new schools, renovations and additions, totals about $96 million though 1999, said Larry Klimovitz, director of administration. About $64 million of that would come from an already strained county budget, he said. The state would probably pick up the rest of the costs, he said.
"Land costs could be the biggest part of this budget," Mr. Klimovitz said. "The price of large lots in increasingly populated areas keeps going up."
Harford has had to pick up about $5.6 million in Social Security costs for teachers and other school employees, he said. Until this year, the state covered those expenses.
l,.5l Explaining his support for the tax, school board member Ronald Eaton said, "We need to encourage the County Council and the county executive to find new sources of funds."
The seven-member County Council is believed to be divided on the transfer tax, which could raise $4 million to $5 million in its first year.
Three weeks ago, parents, principals and teachers pleaded for council approval of the tax at a public hearing. Farmers have also expressed support for the tax, which county officials call a key element in the effort
to preserve dwindling farmland.
Realtors and developers are against the tax, however, because it would increase the cost of houses.
And on Friday, the Harford County Chamber of Commerce's legislative committee voted to oppose the transfer tax.
"We feel strongly about the adverse affects of this tax," said Ronald Szczybor, a committee member and the owner of a Harford financial planning company.
"We feel that the burden of paying for this government project should not fall squarely on the shoulders of people either buying or selling property in this county. People are already paying enough taxes on real estate transactions," he said.
The tax, proposed last year by Eileen M. Rehrmann, the county executive, received approval from more than 60 percent of Harford voters in November. But if the County Council does not approve the transfer tax before April 6, the proposal will die because of the way the legislation is written, said county spokesman George Harrison.
The council could alter the amount of the transfer tax.
Mr. Harrison said the transfer tax would ensure money would be available to build schools.
Typically, school construction costs have been split roughly in half between the county and the state, the school system said. The state pays more than half for land acquisition and construction with the county paying the difference, plus the costs of textbooks and other materials, equipment and furnishings.
Staff Writer Frank Lynch contributed to this article.