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Development in the county: Vital information for voters

July 15, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

Now that the race for Washington County Commissioner is under way, the issue coming to the forefront is development. Here are a few facts for voters trying to decide who's right - and who doesn't know what they're talking about.

- Residential development usually doesn't pay enough in taxes to pay for the services that new residents require. Unless there's commercial and industrial development as well, taxes will continue to climb.

- To get a larger share of state school construction money that will be needed to handle a growing population, the county government must provide a local match.

The current county board attempted to raise some of that cash with a real estate transfer tax, but the idea was rejected by the county's General Assembly representatives.

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The county already has the authority to implement impact fees, but the process is complicated. There are strict limits on how the cash can be used and a consultant study is needed before amounts can be set.

In years past, local builders favored the transfer tax approach, because it would affect all property sold, rather than just new construction.

- There are more than 5,000 rental units in the county and the City of Hagerstown, which is trying a landlord-education program to persuade property owners to upgrade and pay more attention to who they accept as tenants. The city's property tax base, which funds general government operations, is not growing as fast as city expenses, meaning that the city will seek more county help. Assisting the city's redevelopment should keep everyone's taxes down in the long run.

- The county's Comprehensive Plan is undergoing revision and would drastically reduce the ability of property owners to develop. The farmers who face stagnant prices for what they raise and rising prices for supplies they need will not easily yield on this issue, unless the county finds some way to compensate them for the loss of their land's value.

- This short list doesn't include issues like sewer and annexation policy, but it's starting point for candidates and voters alike to educate themselves on a key issue, before they choose leaders for the next four years in November.

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