OAKLAND — During the Garrett County Commission meeting on Tuesday, commissioners voted unanimously to defer the Southern Middle School renovation project funding of $582,400 for one year.
Commissioners also agreed to continue to work with the board of education to develop a plan for fiscal 2015 for the school project.
“I think this is a sound approach,” said Commissioner Jim Raley. “We are going to get through this. It really comes down to, in my opinion, the taxpayers and citizens of Garrett County telling us what they want their school system to look like.”
Raley said it’s up to citizens whether they want to continue to maintain community schools or to consider a larger approach.
Without cuts to the budget, the project would cause an increase in taxes, according to Raley.
“Unless we are going to start cutting money out of the budget, we are not going to afford that project without a tax increase that covers the cost of that debt service,” said Raley. “I don’t often get people coming up to me saying, ‘Please raise my taxes.’”
The debt service on the project would have to be paid back and would cost about $750,000 per year, according to Raley.
“Currently, the county has no debt, so there is no money to roll into that. In order to fund that debt service, the county has to come up with that $750,000 to make that payment. The real reason for the request of the deferal (of the project) is to see if we can get the budget more in line,” he said.
Raley said he didn’t foresee any new revenues coming to the county.
There will be a $1.7 million budget shortfall in fiscal 2015 for education.
“The $1.7 million that the board is asking for is just to remain at status quo,” said Raley. “It doesn’t do anything to enhance the system or to meet some of those needs. I continue to argue that we have a stagnant population, we have a declining student population.”
In order to recover from decline in student population, Raley believes the trend needs to be reversed.
“It needs to happen no matter what our decisions are in moving forward with Southern Middle School,” he said, adding that planning needs to take place with the future in mind. “I don’t know what our county will look like 10 years from now.”
Commissioner Gregan Crawford said he would like to see an independent group develop creative ideas for the direction of the school system.
It is estimated the county will lose $2.7 million in revenue in fiscal 2015 because of the readjustment of the assessable tax base and because, Raley said.
In addition, planning will also have to occur for the shift of teacher retirement costs to county government.
“The biggest problem I see are 2015 and 2016 are going to be critical budget years,” said Raley.
Raley, who worked in the Southern Middle School building for 14 years, said he was concerned about the erosion of the building if the project didn’t move forward.
Southern Middle School was built in 1977.
Contact Elaine Blaisdell at firstname.lastname@example.org.