Change in excise tax urged Council chief wants to save school addition

March 28, 1993|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

Shane Pendergrass is seeking to save a school addition, change state law and make sure that Howard County's new growth ordinance is being enforced.

Ms. Pendergrass, the County Council chairwoman, isn't happy that the school board has announced it will put off a $1.6 million addition to the Bollman Bridge Elementary School in her district. She also isn't happy with a state law that prevents the county from sharing excise tax revenues with the school board to help pay for new school construction.

The excise tax is levied as part of the county's adequate facilities law. State law allowing the county to collect the tax -- imposed on all new residential and commercial construction -- restricts use of the revenue to major highway projects.

Ms. Pendergrass appealed last week to Howard Del. Virginia M. Thomas, a Democrat from District 13A, to introduce emergency legislation to change the law. She also urged the Howard County Homebuilders Association to support such a change.

Without the addition, Bollman Bridge Elementary School will be overcrowded, which could bring development in the Savage-North Laurel area to a halt, Ms. Pendergrass told the homebuilders Friday.

If homebuilders, who as a group supported Ms. Pendergrass' opponent in the last election, got behind her excise tax proposal, it might keep development open in the area, she indicated.

"I think we've got big problems," Ms. Pendergrass said. "I know I have not been your favorite elected official the last six years -- we need not kid each other about that."

The school board, which also delayed a $1.4 million addition at Longfellow Elementary School until fiscal 1995, acted after County Executive Charles I. Ecker asked the board to trim $15 million from its capital budget request for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Mr. Ecker had suggested that the board could achieve the budget cut by delaying work on a new $30 million high school at Long Reach Park. The board disagreed. Members want $15 million put in the fiscal 1994 capital budget to begin construction on the 1,400-student high school in the coming year.

The Bollman Bridge Elementary School addition would provide room for 180 students; the Longfellow Elementary School addition for 100.

Ms. Pendergrass wanted the school board to hold fast to its budget and let the council decide the issue. The council can restore money the executive cuts from the school budget. But if the board trims its request in advance of submitting it to the executive, there is nothing for the council to restore.

With the prospect of no funds to restore, Ms. Pendergrass turned to the excise tax. In a letter, she asked Delegate Thomas to sponsor emergency legislation that would enable the county to use 50 percent of its building excise tax for schools.

Ms. Thomas was skeptical about the legislation's prospects.

"It's very late in the session to be introducing emergency legislation" to help a local jurisdiction, Ms. Thomas said. She said she had spoken with Superintendent Michael E. Hickey and school board chairman Dana Hana about the problem and is "going to work on other angles for Bollman." The Bollman Bridge school is in Ms. Thomas' district.

The adequate facilities law is designed to assure that highway intersections can accommodate traffic generated by a proposed development and that schools will not be overcrowded.

A developer can get around the intersection requirement by paying afee or improving the intersection. But if an elementary school is overcrowded, the area is closed to development for four years. During that waiting period, the county is supposed to cure the school overcrowding problem.

Although postponing the Bollman Bridge and Longfellow additions for a year may lead to overcrowding in 1994, that will not trigger the adequate facilities alarm and shut down development, said County Planning Director Joseph W. Rutter Jr.

Since it usually takes three years for a proposed development to get through the approval process, the earliest any new development could be completed would be 1996, Mr. Rutter said. By then, Bollman Bridge and Longfellow would have been enlarged -- assuming both are funded in the fiscal 1995 capital budget -- and the overcrowding eliminated.

Ms. Pendergrass finds Mr. Rutter's logic offensive. "If elementary school overcrowding doesn't close an area to development, then the adequate facilities law is not working -- just like some citizens said it wouldn't," she said.

"Beyond that, it's a policy issue," Ms. Pendergrass said. This is not what civic and school officials, who labored more than a year to draft the facilities law, intended, she said.

"They compromised on the excise tax -- [allowing it to be used exclusively for roads] -- because they had been assured the county would build the schools it needed when it needed them."

Mr. Ecker said he does not see the delay on Bollman Bridge as a change from that understanding.

"I think we've got to give the adequate facilities ordinance time to work," he said. "You have to plan for the long haul. You have to have some predictability."

Mr. Ecker doesn't think the Board of Education is getting shortchanged in the capital budget he will present to the council Tuesday.

Education accounts for 48 percent of the proposed county capital budget, he said, with Howard Community College getting $2 million and the school board $22 million in new general obligation bond funding. Altogether, the school board will receive $30 million for capital projects, Mr. Ecker said.

"I'm concerned about long-term debt," he said.

In preparing his capital budget proposal for fiscal 1994, Mr. Ecker said that he followed the advice of his bond affordability 'N committee and limited general obligation bond funding to $53 million, the recommended ceiling for fiscal 1994.

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