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Panel is given deadline for school building plan Construction ideas requested by April 7 JTC


County Commissioners told a blue-ribbon panel yesterday that they want a recommendation by April 7 on "the most practical and prudent methods" of financing school construction.

An early April deadline is essential, said Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown, to make adjustments in the fiscal 1998 budget. The new fiscal year begins July 1.

"From time to time, we need broader input than from just the three of us," Brown told the 13-member school facilities commission that he and Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Richard T. Yates created Feb. 10.

County government has no more important task than identifying ways to pay for school construction, Brown said.

When Brown proposed Feb. 6 that a school facilities commission be formed, he had hoped its primary role would be to look at funding alternatives to replace the 16 percent increase in the "piggyback tax" that he and Dell approved in 1995.

The more than $7.5 million in new revenue each year was to be used in conjunction with state aid to build several schools by 2001. But the plan is no longer viable, Brown said, because expected state aid has not been forthcoming.

Brown wanted to repeal the tax increase, but the county's legal department told him his proposal was too late to take effect this year.

At the construction panel's organizational meeting yesterday, member William D. Drumm Jr., president of Carroll County Taxpayers Association, asked whether the tax rate rollback is still on the agenda.

County Budget Director Steven D. Powell said the 16 percent increase in the income tax rate expires in 2001, unless the County Commissioners decide otherwise. Among the questions the school facilities panel will seek to answer, Powell said, is whether to recommend lowering the rate and extending it to pay for school construction bonds, or whether to recommend letting it expire.

"One thing is certain," Powell said: Future school construction will not be based on the sale of municipal bonds alone.

The most likely solution, Powell said, is a combination of bond sales and tax revenue.

Vernon Smith, director of school support services, gave the panel a brief overview of Carroll's school construction in the past two decades and problems facing the county now. Before 1972, the county built schools without state help, he said, citing Eldersburg Elementary and Westminster High schools as the last schools built that way.

In the mid-'70s, the state took over school construction and provided the county its "greatest number of new schools," he said. Northwest Middle, Westminster Elementary, Robert Moton Elementary and Carrolltowne Elementary were built with the "first wave of dollars" from the state, he said.

But over the years, "the state pulled back from the table a little bit," Smith said. It no longer pays for architectural service or furniture and equipment. Cost-sharing with jurisdictions throughout the state now is done on a sliding scale in which richer counties pay more and poorer ones pay less in local money for schools, he said.

Carroll pays 35 percent of school construction costs and the state 65 percent when state funding is available, Smith said. The problem is getting state funding approved.

Because school funding requests statewide are more than double the amount of money available, "somebody gets left out," Smith said.

Bernie Schisler, a panel member representing the local chapter of the Home Builders Association of Maryland, told Smith he didn't want Carroll caught "in the same trap as Howard County," which paid for schools with local bonds now in anticipation of state reimbursement later.

Smith said Carroll has had a different experience. It received state aid for Piney Ridge Elementary and Oklahoma Middle schools, and expects to get it "eventually" for design work done on the planned Cranberry Station Elementary School, he said.

In addition to looking at funding alternatives, the 13-member commission was given a "collateral charge" yesterday to review and comment on the school construction calendar and the current use of school facilities.

Joining Drumm and Schisler on the panel are Board of Education members Joseph D. Mish Jr., Gary W. Bauer and Scott C. Stone; and planning commission members Melvin E. Baile Jr., Deborah L. Ridgely and Robin M. Frazier, an alternate.

The panel also includes Mount Airy Mayor Gerald A. Johnson, Sykesville representative Susan Krebs, Economic Development Commission member Vincent A. Campanella, Chamber of Commerce representative Louna M. Primm, Western Maryland College representative Richard Seaman, and Carroll Community College representative Alan Schuman.

Pub Date: 2/21/97

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