February 2, 2010

MoCo, state puzzled on old school debt

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By Natalie Neumann
Natalie@MarylandReporter.com

Montgomery County and state officials are scrambling to figure out how much the county owes the state from the sale of old school properties, before lawmakers take the money from this year’s budget.

The county is disputing a staff recommendation to Senate budget leaders, which suggests that the state should take $3.2 million in aid from Montgomery next year and use it to pay off a debt that the county developed over the course of two decades.

David Dise, director of general services for Montgomery County said the problem only recently came to his attention. He said the county does not dispute that it owes money, but it takes issue with the amount identified by the state and the proposed method of repayment.

The issue is further complicated by the fact that the county attorney who was handling the issue died recently, Dise said.

A legislative audit showed the Interagency Committee on School Construction should collect at least $3.2 million in proceeds from the county from the lease and sale of some former school properties.

The outstanding debt was incurred over time, as Montgomery County got rid of 17 “surplus” school parcels and properties.

Lawmakers heard of the issue during a budget discussion in a Senate subcommittee Monday.

Sen. Nancy King, D-Montgomery, urged the county and state to find a different way to square up.

This year, the county agreed to repay some of the money, which legislative auditors have highlighted for several years. Previously, the county had disputed that it should give the state any money at all.

David Lever, executive director of the interagency committee, said he began dialogue with the local government last week after a phone call from Dise. He said the groups are working together to figure out the exact debt and a plan to repay it.

“We’re now looking at this carefully to find the exact figure. We will try to make it lower,” said Lever. “We’re not interested in penalizing Montgomery County, but we have to have an accurate figure.”