Official: County can fund school

Treasurer says plan viable with current facilities law

March 14, 2004|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

The County Council has already passed the optimum bill needed to address the hot-button issues of residential growth and school crowding, according to Harford officials.

County Treasurer John Scotten Jr. said Wednesday that the county could afford to pay for the Patterson Mill middle and high school complex if there is no change in the adequate public facilities laws.

Scotten's statement came after a council work session that included officials from the Department of Planning and Zoning and the school system.

The officials met to discuss the potential impact of a new bill that would change the adequate public facilities laws to halt preliminary approval for new homes in any school district with a school that exceeds its enrollment capacity by more than 5 percent.

Under terms of a bill passed by the council in October, preliminary approval is halted in school districts with a school exceeding 115 percent of its capacity.

Scotten made his comments in answer to questions from Councilwoman Cecelia M. Stepp and J. Steven Kaii-Ziegler, director of the Department of Planning and Zoning.

"If we leave APF at 115 percent and we get an impact fee [on new homes] of $5,000 to $7,000, can we afford the new school?" Kaii-Ziegler asked.

"In all probability, yes," Scotten answered.

Stepp asked the same question and got the same answer. "I'm going to hold you to that," she told Scotten.

The disclosure came after most of the council members had left the chamber.

Scotten said earlier this month that reducing the percentage threshold to 105 percent would have a serious impact on revenue because it would reduce the number of houses on which the impact fee is charged. He said the action would likely necessitate a $20 a year boost in the average homeowner's property tax and a $75 a year increase in the income tax.

"We have been trying to communicate to the council that if they allow residential development to continue at the historical rate of roughly about 1,500 units a year, we will have enough funds in the capital budget for schools to be built," Kaii-Ziegler said Thursday.

The council has come under pressure from parents over the past year who are demanding action to address what has been called a "school crisis" in which some schools have 25 percent to 30 percent more students than they were designed to handle.

School officials have said the Patterson Mill complex would be a giant step toward easing crowding. It is designed to reduce attendance at six schools: Bel Air Middle, Southampton Middle, Fallston Middle, Bel Air High, C. Milton Wright High and Fallston High.

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