Carroll's School Financing Realities

October 11, 1994

During the campaign for county commissioner, all the candidates have mentioned they favor "managing" growth. They mention the need to enforce the county's adequate facilities law, preserve agricultural land and, in some cases, impose moratoriums or limit building permits. What they neglect to mention is how will the county pay for the schools, roads, parks and other amenities that are currently needed to accommodate the growth that has taken place as well as what will come in the future.

It is not enough for a candidate to say that more schools should be built. Lobbying the state government for school construction money is not an adequate answer either. A serious candidate should be able to offer a plan that would finance construction of the schoolrooms necessary to end the county's growing reliance on portable classrooms.

Carroll will have to raise its own funds to build the schools. The voters must decide how they want to do this. There is no quick, easy or painless solution. The choices involve a combination of increasing three things: long-term borrowing, taxes and impact fees.

The county cannot continue the practice of paying for large capital expenditures -- such as schools -- out of current revenues. Pay-as-you-go capital improvements financing is the reason the county finds itself in its current fix. Hoping for the state government to increase its share of financing school construction means waiting years for classrooms that are needed today.

To increase the amount of borrowing and maintain its excellent rating with the bond rating agencies, the county has to increase its income stream. The county could float more bonds. Without an increase in current revenue, the county's bonds would be downgraded, which would add significantly to the cost of servicing the bonds.

There are only two realistic alternatives: raising taxes or increasing impact fees. None of the candidates advocates increasing the county's real property tax. They consider such a position to be political suicide. A number of candidates also oppose increasing impact fees.

Candidates may want to avoid this issue but the voters shouldn't let them. Each of the candidates should be able to outline a plan that will pay for the needed classrooms. If they can't, Carroll's residents should withhold their votes.

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