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Letters to the Editor

February 15, 1999

Impact fees hurt the poor

To the editor:

As president of the largest regional non profit sponsor of affordable housing in Western Maryland, I see impact fees to be a serious threat to the ill-housed poor and moderate income households who want to be first time homebuyers. I hope that Washington County officials will consider the unintended consequences of introducing impact fees.

Impact fees are popular because it is easy to tax the few who are not available to protest rather than those who already have homes. The fees are usually introduced in a limited way, but have a way of growing. Impact fees are up to $4,500 in Carroll County now, and when combined with other fees, one must spend about $20,000 before construction can begin on a house. The children of some of the early Carroll County supporters of such fees can no longer afford a starter home in the county where they grew up.

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How local governments design the fees is as important as the amount of additional burden placed on housing.

In Frederick and Carroll counties, impact fees are fixed. This means that a small house pays the same amount as a mansion. Unlike normal property taxes, which have some relationship to the value of the house, impact fees in Frederick and Carroll result in a regressive form of property taxation.

Washington County Commissioners would be well advised to look to Howard County for a better model than those suggested by their consultants. Howard County collects fees on the basis of the square footage of the house. The result is more progressive and does not reduce the amount of revenue gained, but it can be the difference between heartbreak and hope for those at the bottom of the income ladder.

These and other justice and equity issues are discussed in a recent study of how 17 states employ impact fees. Available for $5 from HUD, the report showed that Maryland ranks at the bottom in providing local governments with guidance for impact fee design. Some states provide for exempting affordable housing projects from fees and others exempt projects sponsored by non profits.

I am disappointed that a $115,000 study missed so much critical information about the dangers of of impact fees and steps that can be taken to reduce the harm done to housing affordability. You don't have to go far to find good models. When Frederick County enacted impact fees, elected officials decided to provide funds to offset the harm done to affordable housing by their regressive fee structure. They budget about $150,000 each year for non profits to use as seed money for affordable housing. Thus far, they have spent about $800,000 and it produced about $10 million in affordable housing.

Impact fees are a bad tax and housing policy and should be avoided. If Washington County must introduce these fees, they should be no less progressive than current property taxes and should not impose any new burdens on housing low and moderate income households.

James Upchurch

President

Interfaith Housing of Western Maryland

Middletown, Md.

Canal commerce

To the editor:

Your nice picture of the C&O Canal in a recent Sunday's paper reminds me of a story my father used to tell. His father and grandfather operated McConnell Pottery in Mercersburg. He was born in 1878 and while very young he helped load up the spring wagon with pottery for a trip to Hancock where the jars and jugs, etc., were reloaded on the boats for shipment on the C&O to places like Baltimore.

The pottery ceased business when his father passed on, leaving my father to care for his mother at 11 years of age. Eventually he relocated with his family to Hagerstown where he was a salesman for many years with the old S.M. Bloom and Co., Wholesalers, on North Potomac Street.

Unfortunately, none of the pottery ever had an identifying logo and the few known authentic pieces are displayed in the Fendrick Library in Mercersburg.

David Roszel McConnell Jr.

Waynesboro, Pa.

To the editor:

My husband and I were in Ireland over the summer and we went to a performance in Dublin called "Jury's Irish Cabaret."

It was a delightful, family style show which showcased the best of Ireland's talent. The format was variety, much like a vaudeville style show.

The singing, dancing, jokes and instrumentals kept us well entertained. The headliner, Tony Kenny, is clearly a great talent and his rendition of "Danny Boy" was the highlight of the show for us.

We noticed in the program that they were doing an American tour. We both thought, "wouldn't it be nice if they could come to the Maryland Theatre?" thinking that the folks back home would enjoy this show as much as we did.

Last Saturday in The Herald Mail, I saw that they are indeed coming to the Maryland Theater on Wednesday, February 24.

I was surprised and delighted to read the advertisement. What a nice show for all ages to enjoy. Your children would also get a fun dose of Irish culture and music.

These days, how often do we get to see quality "live entertainment"? The MTV and dee-jay generation are missing out on the thrill of live entertainment. We don't always need to run to Baltimore and Washington for entertainment. We have some excellent local dance bands, the Potomac Playmakers, the Washington County Playhouse, the Maryland Symphony and the Maryland Theatre right in our own back yard.

Let's support our beautiful landmark theater in their efforts to bring our community live, family-style entertainment.

Ruth Stenger-Japzon

Hagerstown

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