Officials asking Pentagon to speed up impact fees

February 13, 2007|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,Sun reporter

With tens of thousands of jobs expected to flow into the state because of military base realignment, local officials are pressing the Pentagon to change a long-standing policy of paying impact fees to school districts only after the new families arrive - too late to help finance the expansion of schools and programs.

As part of a statewide series of meetings with county executives about the impending expansions at Aberdeen Proving Ground and Fort Meade, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski said yesterday that revising the federal funding formula is critical to preparing for a surge in student enrollment.

"It's an old law that doesn't meet our needs," Mikulski said at a news conference in Annapolis with Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold.

But even if the funding formula were revised this year, jurisdictions affected by the base realignment and closure process, known as BRAC, might not receive much of a boost, because the lion's share of the 45,000 new workers will be private-sector defense contractors, not government employees.

There are also major questions about where to direct new funding, given that families from Northern Virginia are still considering whether to relocate and if so, when.

Changing the funding formula "will help, but we will need something more yet to improve the programs and the schools," said Gregory V. Nourse, Anne Arundel's assistant superintendent of business and management.

More than 9,500 children in Anne Arundel County are included in the federal impact aid program in fiscal 2007, said Bob Leib, Anne Arundel's BRAC liaison. The county is spending $99 million to educate these students - but gets $3 million in impact aid under the current formula.

The federal government is paying $1.22 billion in impact fees to local jurisdictions this year - an amount that hasn't increased in three years.

"I've asked the senator to look at ways to look at appropriations that would help BRAC-related counties like Anne Arundel, specifically federal impact aid," Leopold said.

Mikulski said she will be part of a coalition of lawmakers from several states - including Georgia, North Carolina and California - affected by BRAC to push for increased education funding. She said she is seeking to increase the federal contribution to education impact fees in Maryland from $5 million to at least $25 million.

Mikulski said she will also pursue federal dollars to expedite the timetable for completing road construction projects vital to accommodating the new workers.

But at a separate event yesterday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, when asked by reporters, warned that Maryland should be prepared to bear most of the costs of handling the influx of workers.

The Prince George's County Democrat noted that Maryland lawmakers pushed the federal BRAC commission to add the mostly high-paying jobs to the state, and that many communities "would kill for such economic expansion."

"Although we clearly are going to be working as a delegation to assist in making the BRAC move easier for us, the state needs to be in a position in working with us to shoulder the majority of the load, because it is the one being advantaged," Hoyer said.

Sun reporter Matthew Hay Brown contributed to this article

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