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Nine years is enough

February 23, 1999

Nine years ago, the Washington County Homebuilders took out full-page newspaper advertisements opposing development impact fees. With their pointed references to the association's 114 member businesses and their 4,400 employees, they made a potent political point which no doubt contributed to delay in enactment of these fees. But nine years' delay is enough, and school costs are mounting too quickly to delay enactment again.

The homebuilders latest arguments include the following:

- Though some elementary schools are over capacity, that may only be a temporary condition which can be addressed with portable classrooms. Based on the trends we see, however - the MARC train will arrive in Frederick in two years - the potential for housing growth will increase. Portables are already being used to deal with overcrowding, and school officials recently said that they're no cheaper that permanent additions.

- that the county should look to cut expenses instead of seeking new revenue. We will gladly nominate the person who locates the alleged store of "fat" in the school system for a Nobel Prize.

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- The county's growth rate is so slow impact fees don't make sense. Is the association arguing that Washington County should wait until growth speeds up to enact this fee? And does the county want to encourage home ownership by those for whom a $3,000 fee on a $100,000-plus home would be a deal-breaker?

- An impact fee is not fair because it would be levied on all those buying a new house, even those without children. But that's the same way the property tax system works, on the premise that a well-educated population benefits every county resident, even the childless.

The best argument for impact fees are the court decisions that prevent the money from being used to "catch up" on improvements that weren't made in the past. The county gets some cash now from impact fees, or spreads the whole debt among all the taxpayers, childless or child-bearing, rich or poor. The homebuilders' opposition is a reflex position, a dance their members expect their officers to do. It shouldn't prevent the commissioners from doing what is right.

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