Friday, May 06, 2011

Impact of recession: New schools too costly for some counties

Charles and Wicomico counties turn down state construction money

By Julie Bykowicz, The Baltimore Sun

11:40 p.m. EDT, May 4, 2011

As the state Board of Public Works approved $264 million for school construction Wednesday, two counties asked to delay new buildings because they aren't certain they can come up with the money to finish or operate them — an unprecedented sign, officials said, of the continuing financial challenges confronting local governments.

"We've never dealt with anything like this before, where we've come to this sort of crisis point," David G. Lever, director of the state's Public School Construction Program, said of the requests by Charles and Wicomico counties. "It's a real bellwether of the economy."

State Comptroller Peter Franchot said such "uncharted waters" should be a "blinking red light" for state officials. Franchot sits on the three-member Board of Public Works with Gov. Martin O'Malley and Treasurer Nancy Kopp.

"This could just be the tip of the iceberg," he said, questioning whether other counties also might struggle to support new or enlarged schools given the toll the economy has taken on local property and income tax revenues. "In these tough times, perhaps we should reassess these shiny new schools that we're building."


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