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School board told county funds won't cover construction plans

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Three weeks after Anne Arundel County schools Superintendent Carol S. Parham unveiled a $70 million spending proposal for construction, renovation and maintenance, school board members learned that there isn't money to cover the work.

In a presentation last night, county Budget Officer John R. Hammond told board members that the money isn't available to cover both the school system's projects and county building projects.

Said Hammond: "We have a little problem."

'Work out a plan'

Parham said she wasn't surprised by Hammond's disclosure, saying: "I'm charged with stating the needs of the school system. The job for all of us ... is to work out a plan to get there."

Hammond told the eight-member school board that the county has about $93.1 million to spend on capital projects in the next budget year, beginning July 1.

The superintendent's requests include $17 million for school maintenance, a $12.8 million addition at North County High School in Ferndale and the cost of planning a $63 million high school in West County. Together, those costs would consume more than 75 percent of the available money.

The county plans to spend $10 million on a new 911 emergency communications system, $3.1 million on a Severn fire station, $4 million on a building for Anne Arundel Community College and $5.2 million on two libraries.

More spending requests are expected as the county goes through its budget process in the spring.

Vote on Oct. 11

School board members will vote on the superintendent's proposed six-year capital budget Oct. 11. The County Council is expected to vote on the budget in May.

Board President Paul Rudolph said the system is committed to the projects in the plan, but might have to reprioritize and push back some of them.

The board gave no indication of which projects they would table.

Last year, the school board asked the council for $114 million to pay for new schools and renovation projects. The school system received $91.7 million for the current budget year.

Recently, the county was able to give the school system additional dollars - including $40 million to clear up a maintenance backlog - because of the strong economy. That money came from a county windfall of $110.6 million in capital gains taxes over the past two budget years.

"The expectation is the economy is going to level off and our ability to throw these kinds of amounts in ... isn't going to last," Hammond said.

The county is expecting about $29.2 million in capital gains taxes for the 2002 budget year, a drop of $18.1 million from the previous budget year.

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