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May 11, 2005

Statistically The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Alan Imhoff

Recently I dusted off some old information to update for an appearance on a local political television show. Unfortunately that evening the panelists did not get to that agenda item.

The topic was on a recently released growth article, as published in a local newspaper, which bemoaned the fact that Frederick County was statistically the second fastest growing county in population in the State of Maryland behind Charles County.

Taken at face value, that statement sounds ominous when the statistic used was a 26.7% increase from 1994 to 2004. But how bad is it, really?

So, in preparation for my television appearance, I decided to see if I could relate this population "explosion" into other associated statistics.

The first one that came to mind was housing. Heavens knows that if the county experiences a population explosion, then housing should be equally explosive. So here goes, in 1994 there were approximately 63,200 households in the county, not houses - households. That means trailers, apartments, condominiums along with the ubiquitous townhouses and single-family dwellings.

In 2004 there was an estimated 79,900 households, so the number of households grew by an estimated 26.5%. Okay, that seems consistent, 26.7% for a population increase and 26.5% for number of households.

Next on my list was public school enrollment. For September 1994 there were 31,781 students in our system. Ten years later in September 2004 there were 39,564. The increase? Yep, you guessed it, a close 24.5% to the population's 26.7%.

So I decided to see how close the overall county budget came to mirroring this 26.7%.

In Fiscal Year 1994 according to the county's Consolidated Annual Financial Report, the operational budget came in at $157,540,033 for "Total Expenditures and Other Financing Use."

Ten budget years later Fiscal Year 2004 came in at $302,003,157. That folks is a 91.7% increase! Over three times the rate of population, housing or public school growth. Should we develop a new statistic that says for every percent growth in population the county should increase its budget by 3.4%?

Does this mean over the next 10 years our county budget will almost double again to over $579 million, while the planning forecasters say we should experience a slower rate of growth in all the three other areas mentioned above?

So, to test my own questions, I attempted to do the same comparison for the operational budget of the Frederick County Public Schools. Official numbers were not readily available, but based on published anecdotal information I estimated that the operational budget for FCPS grew approximately 60% over the same 10 years.

So, does this mean that another statistic should be developed that says for every percent growth in school enrollment we need to grow the school budget by 2 percent?

But then, what is the real statistic on which we should focus?

Well, I have taken the two main growth rates, population and county budget and developed what most in budget preparation know already, that in reality our county budget needs to expand 5.13% a year on average to accommodate every new resident.

In 1994 by dividing the $157,540,033 operational budget by the estimated 171,801 residents we get a cost to provide services of $916.99 per person. Ten years later, that cost is now $1,387.54 for every man, woman and child. The 51.3% increase when divided by the 10 years, averages 5.13%.

So, assuming all else is equal, in another 10 years we could see a cost per person of roughly $2,100.

Rather than just focusing on housing and school growth as we have over the past 20 years or so, should we not - as taxpayers - begin to ask our county commissioners to seriously look bringing their cost of government down at least one half of one percent?

Why did I suggest 4.5%?

During these same ten years, the median household income in 1994 was $41,562; in 2004 it was $60,274 or a 46.1% increase.

Isn't it interesting that the 5.13% average rate of increase in governmental spending is close to the 4.61% increase of medium income?

Another little bit of trivia, while researching another topic for the show in the Maryland Room at the C. Burr Artz Library, I came across an article that stated the cost of a gallon of gas in 1984 was $1.18, today at about a dollar more per gallon we experienced an average rate of 4.2% increase over the past 20 years.

So, to put all the stars in alignment and bring balance to our galaxy here in Frederick County, if government can maintain a 4.5% growth in our operational budget, then on average 4,500 new people can join us every year, with 764 new students in our school system, living in 1,675 new households.

Why then do we make it so difficult on ourselves each year by ignoring the obvious, guess it must be all those "explosive growth" statistics; politicians and newspapers want to scare us wit



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