Back to Work Building Schools
During the summer and fall of 2010 I campaigned from one end of Frederick County to the other. I knocked on doors, talked to people at fire halls, picnics, carnivals and just walking down the street. What I heard most was that we need to put the people back to work in the private sector.
Since this new group of commissioners has taken office, I have continued to get comments from people concerned about jobs, wasteful government spending and taxes. We have done our best to address these concerns by putting our financial house in order and reducing or eliminating burdensome regulations, not only on private citizens, but on our business community as well.
We have also heard from many people on another issue, one that rouses very strong feelings and generates as much passion and concern as does the issue of jobs, spending and taxes. And that is the need to continue the construction of new schools in Frederick County and to provide the funding for much needed renovation of some of our older ones.
The long awaited and necessary renovation of Lincoln Elementary in Frederick is now funded and is getting underway. We are working feverishly now to figure out a way to advance the construction of an addition to Oakdale Elementary, to relieve significant overcrowding at Centerville Elementary. And each of us wants to do what we can to move forward with renovations of North Frederick Elementary and Frederick High. All of these projects are worthy and are necessary. With state standards and requirements, we will need at least $120 million for just these four projects.
Right now the money is not available. The state has tightened up on their school construction spending, perhaps like never before. Another source of funding for schools, impact fees paid by developers on every housing unit, is down dramatically because the number of houses being built in the county is down. In short, we seem to have a "perfect storm" of factors which have inhibited the flow of funds for school projects at the same time we need the money the most.
Currently we are proceeding with a new initiative brought forward by the business/development community as a tool. It may serve to considerably advance the school construction projects even in these dire economic times. The Board of County Commissioners is considering a proposal to add a school mitigation fee to the county’s Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO) which would require a builder to pay an additional fee (in addition to the current impact fee) for any unit in a project which fails the current test for APFO school adequacy.
The proposed fee would be a maximum of over $10,000 per unit. With the current impact fee for a single family home exceeding $14,000, this would mean that a builder would be required to contribute up to $24,000 in fees to Frederick County for the privilege of putting a shovel in the ground on a new home. These funds would be set aside solely for school construction projects.
The beauty of this new fee is that – not only will it provide significant additional resources which can be used to advance long-awaited construction projects – it could also stimulate the housing industry, thereby putting hundreds, if not thousands, of people in this county back to work. This would be a true stimulus plan that would not require the government to put up money it does not have.
People sometimes lose sight of the fact that if we can do something to move some projects through the APFO process, not only will we get this new mitigation fee, but we will also get the $14,000 impact fee, which would not be paid on a project which fails APFO as it is currently written. In other words, half of nothing is nothing! As the business/development community has presented it, the additional fee would be another tool to be used if market conditions warrant it.
Some also forget that the comprehensive plan, which was passed by the last group of county commissioners, calls for about 1,500 houses per year to be built in the county. We are falling woefully short of that number at present. If this new APFO school mitigation fee could get us somewhere near to the level of housing starts projected by the prior board, we could be substantially on our way to funding some of these necessary school projects, putting many people back to work and creating retail spending power with new residents.
I encourage everyone to follow the proceedings concerning this new APFO school mitigation fee. The opposition to this proposal is casting it in the light of a runaway board seeking to develop every square inch of Frederick County.
As Commissioners Kirby Delauter, Billy Shreve, C. Paul Smith and I stated during the campaign, we intend to seek out overly burdensome regulations on businesses in an effort to stimulate job growth here. We should always remember the government does not create a job but can prevent jobs from being created.
And as we also stated, we believe that the prior board’s comprehensive plan, which preserves over 96% of the land area in the county in either conservation or agricultural zoning, and calls for 1,500 about new houses to be built per year, is probably right on target. All we are trying to do is put the regulatory scheme in line so that the projections for growth made by the prior board can be realized.