Assembly delegation's help sought to obtain school repair funding; Citizens' panel report is presented to Owens


County Executive Janet S. Owens has enlisted Anne Arundel's delegation to the General Assembly to get the state to pay for the $134 million backlog in school maintenance and repair work a citizens' panel said could delay the opening of some schools.

Owens said after a news conference yesterday that she believes it is possible to get the money over four or more years.

"At least one senator I know thinks we can get between $19 [million] and $20 million a year," she said, refusing to name the senator. "But I would be happy with any penny over $9 million that we can get."

The Citizens's Committee on School Maintenance and Repair, which last month released the report suggesting that crumbling conditions could eventually cause delays in school openings, formally presented it to the executive yesterday.

Owens said she plans to form a committee of school board, County Council members and county officials to study the 83-page report and come up with a plan to attack the $417 million bill for renovation, maintenance and repairs.

The 39-member panel, appointed by former County Executive John G. Gary, suggested raising the piggy-back tax -- the county's share of the state income tax -- and property taxes among its approximately 50 recommendations for improving the condition of county schools.

The backlog in school maintenance and repairs is $134 million, and another $283 million is needed to renovate 45 schools that are more than 30 years old, according to the panel.

Raising taxes is not a popular idea among lawmakers, and Owens said during her campaign last year that she is opposed to raising the county's property tax limit. She reiterated her position yesterday.

"Not one single person has told me to raise taxes," she said.

The report details the abysmal condition of some of the county's 117 schools and noted that a few years ago, several schools in Washington could not open in September because long-ignored repairs had caused fire and health risks. The same situation could occur in Arundel if money is not used to fix the schools now, the panel said.

"This is something that I have talked about for years," said Carol S. Parham, school superintendent. "Now I have it verified that it could happen to us if we don't start doing something about it now."

Asking the state for money to pay for repairs on school buildings is a cheaper option for the county than asking for money to build schools. The state does not require counties to provide as much in matching funds for repairs. For example, the state would pay up to half of the cost for a new roof, but only about 15 percent of the cost of a new school.

If the county can get $19 million a year from the state for seven years, the backlog problem will be solved, according to the report. But renovations and modernization projects could not begin until the fourth year of such a plan and could take up to seven years to complete.

Pub Date: 2/09/99

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