THE NEED for a new high school for Westminster is eminently justified by the enrollment figures. Pupil population in the county has soared in the 1990s -- adding the equivalent of a new high school's worth of students every four or five years. The trend isn't expected to peak until 2005.
Westminster High is among the largest high schools in the metropolitan region, with more than 2,500 students. In four years, enrollment will top 3,000 -- as large as the towns of Manchester and Sykesville.
Some kids can't attend the prom because of limited space. Some must eat their lunches at breakfast time because the cafeteria is too small.
Parents concerned about further delay of the $29 million, 1,200-pupil school are mobilizing to force the county to build by 2002. They resent the success of a South Carroll coalition that persuaded the county to give priority to a new Eldersburg high school for 2002. This change in the county's construction list was made although the Westminster project had been the priority item and had received initial funding approval from the state's Interagency Committee on School Construction.
Both high schools are needed. That is what the county commissioners decided two years ago. Now, the county Planning and Zoning Commission proposes a two-year delay in building the Westminster school.
That follows a one-year delay proposed last year.
Yes, some Carroll high schools are underutilized, but those empty seats are far from Carroll's burgeoning population centers in the central and southeast sectors.
Westminster High has relied for years on a fleet of trailers used as overflow classrooms. It's well above rated capacity, its hallways suffer traffic gridlock.
This isn't about building to head off future crowding. It's about the need to solve a problem already here.
When free speech isn't free
Anne Arundel: City officials don't oppose First Amendment; they just don't want to get stuck with the bill.
ANNAPOLIS' city officials don't have anything against the First Amendment. It's paying for someone else's free speech that they oppose.
Annapolis officials want to bill large groups for the cost of police and cleanup when they visit the state capital to rally for a cause.
The 34,000 people who happen to make Annapolis their home shouldn't have to foot the bill for everyone who wants to sound off near the State House, the officials contend.
Their argument has merit, but it may be overwhelmed by the specious charge that Annapolis' city fathers are undermining free speech.
Groups from abortion opponents to organized labor demonstrate in Annapolis during the winter legislative session. Extra security and sanitation services for these gatherings cost $300,000 a year, or about 3 cents of the property tax rate of $1.70 per $100 of assessed value, city officials say.
Annapolis' attempt to recover its costs is understandable -- but misdirected. The more appropriate target is state government.
Most of the demonstrations are intended to influence the governor or General Assembly, not Annapolis City Hall. All Marylanders should be paying for this.
A vehicle to accomplish this, known as a payment in lieu of taxes, already exists. State government pays Annapolis to provide police and fire services, but the sum has been inadequate. In the last fiscal year, the state government paid the city $267,000. It would have had to pay more than twice that in real estate taxes -- $647,380 -- were its property not exempt from city levies.
Obviously, Annapolis' economy benefits immensely from being the seat of government. No one is advocating moving the capital after more than 300 years. Annapolis' taxpayers, however, shouldn't have to subsidize marches and demonstrations just because they occur in their back yard.
Pub Date: 1/12/99