Delegation delays revenue proposal Bill would have let tax on development go to schools, roads

December 17, 1998|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Members of Howard County's state legislative delegation voted last night to delay action on a bill that would allow revenue from taxes on new development to be used for schools as well as roads.

The vote to delay action on the measure, which is opposed by the county executive and the business sector, was 6-2.

The measure sponsored by Del. Elizabeth Bobo would allow the County Council to allocate revenue from a tax on new development to school construction.

The levy was instituted six years ago to help defray public costs for roads that are needed to get residents to new housing developments.

Though the delegation, meeting in Ellicott City, postponed action on the bill until Feb. 2, Bobo was not displeased.

"I'd rather have a delay than a defeat," she said, after learning that County Executive James N. Robey wrote to the delegation to say he feels the bill is premature -- a position taken last week by the county Chamber of Commerce.

Republican Sen. Christopher J. McCabe, who chairs Howard's legislative delegation, said he opposes the bill because it would provide too little money for schools, and it might encourage the state to reduce its contribution to Howard schools.

Last year, Bobo's attempt to require that 50 percent of the tax revenue go to school construction was defeated.

Despite the tax on new development, road building has fallen behind school construction, the county's first priority in recent 00 years. Now, huge new commercial centers near Interstate 95 and more commuters are straining county roadways, causing daily rush-hour backups.

To Bobo, the current law allocating the revenue only to road projects, such as several planned highway interchanges along U.S. 29, will merely "enable D.C. commuters to get to the Montgomery [County] traffic jam two minutes earlier."

A better idea, the Ellicott City Democrat believes, is to spend some of the money on school construction.

"Unless I was imagining things, I didn't hear an issue of greater concern [during the recent election campaign] than school crowding," she said.

Bobo said that if the county is going to revisit its adequate-facilities law and submit a new General Plan, why not give the council an option on how to spend revenue from the tax?

The county has $26 million from the tax in its treasury, and it expects to collect $6 million annually until 2005, when, budget administrator Raymond S. Wacks believes, revenues will tail off.

Most of that money, Wacks and Public Works Director James M. Irvin said, is planned for use on several high-profile highway projects, starting with the $16 million interchange at Route 175 and Snowden River Parkway due to get under way next year.

Irvin said the county expects to spend more than $30 million over the next few years for several projects. They include: interchanges planned along U.S. 29 at Route 216 and at Gorman Road, south of Columbia; adding a third lane onto Route 32 east of U.S. 29 to Broken Land Parkway; and perhaps to solve rush-hour congestion at the new confluence of Route 100 and U.S. 29 in Ellicott City.

Bobo's proposal is a scaled-down version of last year's failed bill that would have required 50 percent of the money collected from builders each year to go to schools, but it faces an uncertain fate.

That change has attracted support from fellow Howard Democratic Del. Shane Pendergrass, who opposed last year's version, but solid opposition is coming from builders, developers, some county officials and John Snyder, vice chairman of the Long Reach Community Association.

"The bottom line is, there's a need to continue to pay attention to roads in this county," Snyder said. Schools have a natural constituency, he said, noting the hundreds of residents who supported a recent $1.5 million addition to Phelps Luck LTC Elementary.

"We always go for schools," he said, adding that when traffic gets jammed -- such as at the Long Reach intersection of Route 175 and Snowden River Parkway, the frustrated drivers who must use those routes don't often appear at public hearings.

Without the development tax money that's used to leverage five-year bonds to pay for major road projects, "driving conditions will deteriorate," said Thomas Ballentine, director of government affairs for the Howard chapter of the Maryland Home Builders Association.

County school officials say 20 schools have opened and two other old schools got new buildings in the past six years, and the county still owes $191 million on $270 million worth of school bond borrowing. A $30 million high school is planned for 2002. The school board hasn't taken a position on Bobo's bill because members feel they need more information about it, schools spokeswoman Patti Caplan said.

But Pendergrass said the County Council is best able to determine what the county needs each year as the budget is considered. "The problem with the logic of building state roads comes at a point where we are being double-taxed," she said.

Pub Date: 12/17/98

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