State failure to help pay for new Sykesville school may 'wipe out' other projects

December 22, 1993|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Staff Writer

If the state doesn't contribute about $6 million toward a new middle school in the Sykesville area, Carroll's capital budget for the next fiscal year may have to be gutted to pay for it, county planning officials said yesterday.

"The school construction program can wipe out all other capital projects. The implications of not getting that project are very severe," Planning Director Edmund R. Cueman told the county commissioners.

The officials discussed the dilemma yesterday when the county planning commission presented its recommended capital budget to the commissioners.

The planning commission has recommended spending $66.6 million in fiscal 1995 on capital projects, which include schools, roads, bridges, libraries and other programs.

Fiscal 1995 begins July 1.

Carroll needs a new middle school on Oklahoma Road to help ease crowding at Sykesville Middle School, which has about 200 students more than its 855 capacity.

If the new school isn't built in fiscal 1995, county officials may have to prohibit homebuilding in the Freedom area, Mr. Cueman said.

Such a moratorium probably would cause builders to go elsewhere, which might cause school crowding in Westminster, Hampstead and other areas, and moratoriums might then be needed in those areas, he said.

Last month, the Maryland Interagency Committee on School Construction told Carroll school officials that the state would not contribute $6.3 million toward the $11 million construction cost of a new middle school. The county had planned to pay about $4.6 million of the cost.

Carroll officials appealed the decision last week, but have not heard from state officials.

In October, all three Carroll commissioners said the county would build the school even if the state did not contribute.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell said yesterday that he isn't sure he'd be willing to gut the capital budget to pay for the new school. The county could raise property taxes to pay for the new school, but Mr. Dell said he didn't like that option.

MA Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy said he wouldn't want to cut back

other capital projects to build the school, but added, "I'd like to come back from South Carroll with all my skin intact."

In March, 500 parents and students packed Sykesville Middle School to demand county and state agreement to build a new middle school earlier than 1998.

Commissioner Julia W. Gouge said the county has paid for new schools in the past without state help. The commissioners may have to carve money for the school from other areas in the capital budget, but she said she doesn't want the roads budget or county bond rating to suffer.

In the past three years, Carroll paid to build Piney Ridge Elementary and to renovate Sandymount Elementary without state money. The county hopes to recoup $4.4 million, which would have been the state share for the two projects, Mr. Cueman said.

The state generally pays about 60 percent of the cost of a new school.

If the state does not contribute toward the new middle school, the planning commission recommended it would be "prudent" to reserve the $4.6 million in county money and build the school a year later.

The commissioners will study the proposed capital budget from now until May, when they must vote to approve a spending plan.

The budget proposed yesterday is almost $34 million higher than the current year's capital budget of $32.6 million. Local revenue accounts for 36 percent of the total. State, federal and other sources account for the rest.

Local money, which includes cash and general-obligation bonds, expected to increase. The planning commission estimated that the county should spend $1.5 million in cash and $21 million in bonds in the next fiscal year, compared with $1 million in cash and $7.5 million in bonds spent in the current year.

The total local money for next year -- $22.5 million -- is $1.4 million more than what budget officials expect will be available.

Last year, the planning commission recommended projects totaling $2.5 million more than what was available. The commissioners considered the requests and pared some of them.

The planning commission expects $42.7 million in state, federal and other money to be available for Carroll projects.

"Given the state's current fiscal condition and its revenue TC projections for fiscal year 1995, there is a high degree of anxiety for projects depending on state matching money for fiscal year 1995," the planning report says.

"It looks like a do-able budget," Mr. Dell said.

"Every year, it seems to be a challenge for us," said Mr. Cueman.

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