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Jason Miller County Council at Large


October 28, 2003

The Emperor's New Clothes - Frederick County Style

Alan Imhoff

The Board of County Commissioners will soon parade down the street to Annapolis to get a new suit of clothes (fashioned by Excise Tax) and according to conventional wisdom they will come back empty handed.

So, to hedge their bets, they intend to fix up the suit of clothes (Impact Fees) they now wear.

If the proposed figure of $9,129 for a Single Family Detached (SFD) is adopted, it will represent a whopping 32.9% increase over the current $6,867, which, by the way, has already been increased automatically over the past several years by an "inflation" factor of roughly 2% built into the methodology. (A further note: just two years ago the fee was raised roughly 50% after lying dormant since it's inception in 1993.)

Based on recent stories in the media, there is a strong likelihood that the Impact Fee will be raised. According to a quote of County Manager Doug Browning, "This is a significant increase."

All of this flies in the face of reality or to paraphrase the story, the Board has no clothes.

This past year the Frederick County School System had a student population increase of just 262 students or up just 0.68% from the 38,742 students as of September 30, 2002.

State demographers in the Maryland Office of Planning (MOP) have published projections for our school system that indicate we MAY max out at 42,690 by 2012.

The FCPS July 2003 Master Plan indicates a total equated school population of 44,478 for the year 2012.

As a point of reference for those who question the State's ability to do accurate projection versus our own local folks, on July 28, 1994, FCPS presented School Enrollments and School Capacities to the Future Growth committee on which I served as Co-Chair.

In that report were two charts that are worth citing here. The first one for Student Enrollment Growth showed a "State Approved" growth line and an FCPS trend line based on 1990 to 1993. For the year 2003, the end year of the chart, the FCPS line indicated roughly 42,300 students; the State Approved number was 38,400. According to the just published FCPS September 30th chart, the actual number was 39,004.

FCPS estimates 10 years in advance were off by 8.5%, the State Approved number was off by 1.6%. So, will the MOP be right 9 years from now or FCPS? Only time will tell.

The second chart that is more interesting does not attribute its source, so I must assume it was FCPS. It is in bar chart format and also labeled Student Enrollment Growth. For 1994 it predicted 31,640 students, two months later 31,591 showed up. For 2003 it predicted 38,755; remember 39,004 showed up just last month. Just a 0.64% difference, remember this was nine years in advance.

As a further reference, in December 1983 the Frederick County Comprehensive Plan, Vol. 1 projected a school enrollment for 29,205 for the year 2000. The actual equated number was 35,396. Or a margin of error of about 17%, 17 years in advance.

Finally, according to the July 2003 Master Plan for FCPS, if all the projects listed are funded and built on schedule (which seldom happens over a long time frame) the school system will add 10,589 seats by 2010.

Now remember, the school system projects an increase of 5,474 more students by 2012 and the MOP projects 3,686 more. That means all else being equal for the FCPS estimate we will pay for 5,112 more seats than students. For the MOP it will be 6,903.

And don't forget this is all happening when the number of new homes being constructed is dropping and may flatten out according to our current Frederick County Comprehensive Plan.

So, let's get back to the new clothes.

If the proposed Excise Tax (new clothes) does pass the county's delegation to Annapolis somehow, the carrot is that it would be paid over a five-year period. Don't know my tax laws in this area but can't this tax be a deductible on income tax filings? But shouldn't it be a one-time tax and taken over a two year period on the tax returns?

On the other hand if the new clothes don't fit (shot down by the delegation), and the old clothes (Impact Fees) are enhanced ("significant increase") they are not tax deductible. But if we were willing to spread the cost of the new clothes over five years, why couldn't we spread the cost of enhancing the old clothes over the same time frame and paid directly by the owner of the new home?

Guess they might put up too much fuss and vote the Emperor out of office, or, at the very least take away all his clothes for good!

But maybe this is but the musing of a little girl (or an old fuddy-dud) wondering why the Emperor has "no clothes".



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