Seafarer's School Seeks County Backing on Loans

By Guy Leonard, The County Times

HOLLYWOOD, Md.—The Harry Lundeberg School of Seamanship in Piney Point is having talks with county government to help secure their approval for a certain type of bond that would allow the school to borrow at a reduced interest rate to fund waterfront improvements there, The County Times has learned.

County Administrator John Savich confirmed that lawyers for both groups are still negotiating the issue, but there has been no formal proposal offered to the Board of County Commissioners yet.

Savich said that the school leadership is requesting the approval of the county to take advantage of a special portion of the federal tax code that allows them to borrow what is known as economic development revenue bonds.

“It has nothing to do with the county’s debt capacity or our debt ceiling,” Savich said. “The full faith and credit of the county government is not at stake. It doesn’t count against our debt.”

Savich said that the school could qualify to take advantage of that particular part of the tax code because it is considered an economic asset locally.

“It’s a significant employer in the county,” Savich said. “It just authorizes the borrower to access those provisions of the tax code.”

County Commissioner President Francis Jack Russell (D-St. George Island) is one of the county’s residents that is employed by the school.

Russell’s 2011 financial disclosure statement shows that he has a paid position there as a marine instructor.

Russell told The County Times that he knew few details of the talks between bond attorneys, but that if the measure came before the board he would likely abstain from voting.

“If it came to a vote in all probability I would recuse myself,” Russell said.

Don Nolan, vice president in charge of the school, said that the improvements would encompass about 1,000 feet of waterfront, some of it bulkhead and some of is stone revetment, but because the scope of the project had not been determined he could not offer a dollar figure on the cost.

“We’re just putting out feelers; were looking for some options to finance it,” Nolan said of the project.

Nolan said that since 1968 the school has been operating in Piney Point, and as a school it is exempt from paying property taxes while employing more than 200 people.

According to figures from the county tax assessment office, the property there is valued at a little over $61.6 million.

The county treasurer’s office confirmed that if the school were not exempt it would have owed nearly $640,000 in property taxes this year.

Savich said he expects the proposal to come from school officials, but it could be months away.

About 10 years ago the county authorized Triton Metals to access the bonds to facilitate their move to the county industrial park in California, he said.

“This is a proposal that will be coming to us, that’s my understanding.”

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