Frederick County Councilman Kirby Delauter said he’s no longer pursuing a school leasing proposal he pitched at a June meeting in Winchester Hall. Also, he’s no longer meeting with businesses that would have played a role in the public-private partnership.
Delauter announced the decision in a press release Friday afternoon, which stated that he was dissolving a task force studying leasing schools — but not a similar group created by County Executive Jan Gardner.
Delauter’s release said he was ending the “School Build Lease Buy-Back Task Force,” a group formed by County Executive Jan Gardner in March and which included Delauter and Councilman Tony Chmelik as co-chairmen. The task force also includes county and Frederick County Public Schools employees, developers and Delegate Carol Krimm, D-District 3A.
However, in a later interview, Delauter said he actually is dissolving a second work group that he created, not Gardner’s group.
Gardner said she intends for her appointed task force to continue its work.
Delauter said he was not interested in pursuing that task force’s work after Gardner indicated she would not support the plan he put forward in June.
Delauter said a leasing plan would allow the county to build four new elementary schools at the same time, while paying off leases on two of the facilities for 20 years. At the June meeting, an initial leasing arrangement to build one hypothetical $41 million elementary school would end up costing more than $102.4 million in rent payments over 30 years.
But even after Delauter recast the plan to include a 20-year lease with other cost-saving measures, Gardner said the leasing proposal costs too much money for her to recommend moving forward.
The second leasing proposal from Delauter still would cost about $50 million more for the package of four schools than traditional funding, Gardner said.
“I’m not going to support projects that have taxpayers spend millions of dollars more,” she said Friday.
But Delauter stood by the proposal in a phone interview Friday.
He said he worked with county staff and his partners to craft a plan that came “within $20 million” of traditional funding. He said the county’s budget could support the lease payments in exchange for getting schools built faster.
“There was a disagreement on the finances and costs associated with the possibility of privately funded schools,” Delauter wrote in Friday’s news release. “We have been dealing with concerns for school construction for the past 20 years. I was diligently seeking ways to build schools in the future with the least amount of impact on the Frederick County taxpayers. It has become clear to me that the County Executive is stuck in yesterday’s thinking where you always turn to the taxpayers to pay for everything. I am truly sorry to the taxpayers that we were not able to work to find new solutions to an old problem.”
Delauter said the group he was dissolving included himself and the developer, the builder and the businessman who crafted the four-school lease plan.
Delauter said he wasn’t sure what value Gardner’s task force still had.
“The task force is not going to be able to come up with anything new,” he said.
Gardner said there’s still work to be done, particularly to look beyond one specific plan for leasing schools in the county.
“I want the task force to continue. I want them to look broadly at the topic,” she said, adding that she hoped the task force would create a final report before a state commission on school construction meets in October. “I think there’s still work to be done. So I’m going to take steps to make sure that the work continues.”
Over the phone, Delauter said he believed the payments were appropriate for schools, especially since Gardner supported the county’s ownership of the Citizens Care and Rehabilitation Center and Montevue Assisted Living.
Delauter and the former Board of County Commissioners sought to privatize the homes, saying they required about $5 million of taxpayer money a year to stay afloat. Gardner introduced a plan in May to take over operations of the homes, under an agreement she says would guarantee a county profit.
Delauter has said he’s seriously considering running against Gardner for the county executive spot in 2018.