State money for schools heads officials' wish list

January 22, 1995|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Sun Staff Writer

Harford school construction and renovation projects, and two bills that could encourage economic development in the county, top the legislative wish list of Harford County officials as the 1995 session of the General Assembly gets under way.

County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann and administration officials detailed their priorities in a meeting with the Harford County delegation in Annapolis Friday. At the top of the list, and of most immediate concern, is the delegation's support in the county's appeal Wednesday to the state Board of Public Works for an additional $7.276 million to build a new school in Forest Hill and to modernize and renovate other schools badly in need of repairs.

Schools Superintendent Ray R. Keech told the delegation that the county has received approval from the Interagency Committee on School Construction for $3.4 million in state funds for fiscal 1996, including $2.6 million for Forest Lakes Area Elementary School. But the approval is for a 440-student school and the county needs a 600-student-capacity school, he said.

Dr. Keech said the county plans to make a case to the board for the larger school, to relieve overcrowding at Forest Hill Elementary and four other schools in the surrounding area.

More important, he said, projected population increases from housing developments under construction, including Spenceola Farms, Forest Lakes and Rosefields, are expected to generate 536 new students. "So we can easily justify the need for the larger school," he told the delegation.

District 35A Del. Donald C. Fry, the delegation chairman, noted that the governor is proposing $120 million statewide for schools next year. While nearly $20 million of it is slated for court-ordered busing, the remainder is available for construction costs and he intends for Harford to get its share, he said.

Mr. Fry assured the administration that the delegation would be present at the hearing on Wednesday to support the appeal.

The $7.2 million request also includes funds for modernization of Hickory Elementary, built in 1950; Hall's Cross Roads Elementary, built in 1943; and Churchville Elementary, which dates to 1931.

The wish list includes requests for money to replace rooftop heating and air conditioning units at three schools and roofs at seven schools built between 1952 and 1979.

Mrs. Rehrmann also urged the delegation to support repeal of the snack tax, a controversial sales and use tax on snack food that she says has adversely affected Frito-Lay, which has the potential to be one of the county's largest manufacturing employers.

Paul Gilbert, economic development director, said repeal of the tax would encourage expansion by Frito-Lay. The company opened a plant in Aberdeen in 1993, the same year the state passed the tax. It currently employs about 100 people in its warehouse and manufacturing units.

He said the company has suggested that it would invest $27 million to expand its tortilla chip line by 1996, which would add 100 employees, should the tax be repealed.

Mrs. Rehrmann reminded the delegation that the tax also has an impact on other companies in Maryland, including such Frito-Lay suppliers as McCormick & Co.

The administration solicited the delegation's support for enabling legislation that would allow the county government to grant a property tax credit for certain commercial and industrial business expansion.

Mrs. Rehrmann said Harford's draft bill is modeled after Washington County's law, and she said similar tax-credit programs exist in Baltimore, Garrett, Prince George's and Montgomery counties.

Harford officials say the credit will be particularly productive in Edgewood, Aberdeen and Havre de Grace, and adjacent portions of the U.S. 40 corridor targeted for revitalization.

"This would be an important economic tool for new business and clearly for existing businesses that want to expand," Mrs. Rehrmann told the panel.

In the hope that a new governor in office might take a new stance, the administration, with the support of the sheriff's office and County Council, again urged passage of a law to protect sheriff's deputies from being dismissed or demoted without just cause.

The General Assembly passed a House bill affecting sheriff's employees last spring. But then-Gov. William Donald Schaefer vetoed the bill in June, noting that it failed to include a definition of just cause and did not allow an appeals process for terminated employees.

Delegate Fry, who supports the bill, noted that he had warned its drafters that, unless the legislation is amended to satisfy those shortcomings, it may not be enacted again.

Other legislation on the administration's list includes:

* A law to distinguish between fire and rescue volunteers who actually respond to emergencies and those who provide other services, in an effort to reduce worker's compensation premiums. While 25 percent of the volunteers in Harford do not respond to emergencies, the county insures them at the same high-risk rates as "responders" are insured.

* Support for a $400,000 bond bill for renovation and rehabilitation of the Ladew Topiary Gardens near Monkton.

* An amendment to a bond bill supporting the Havre de Grace Maritime Museum. The amendment would expand options for contributions to the museum to qualify as matching funds in a $400,000 fund-raising campaign instigated by a bond bill passed in 1994.

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