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Taxpayers forced to make up the development gap

October 12, 2003|By Joe Lane, Smithsburg

To the editor:

In the past several weeks, there have been several articles in The Herald-Mail that should cause the taxpayers of Washington County to be alarmed.

Washington County is experiencing an unprecedented level of new subdivision approval. Developers have submitted so many plans for new development that the planning department is unable to process these requests in a timely manner.

This is happening even as a development moratorium on rural subdivisions is in place. I do not want to debate whether or not the new comprehensive plan should or should not be approved in this article. The purpose of this article is to try to keep myself and other existing taxpayers from being forced to subsidize this new development.

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As any teacher or student can tell you, our schools are at or over capacity right now. The Washington County Board of Education (WCBOE) estimates that it costs $15,780 for each new student brought into the system. This covers the cost of classroom space, desks, books and other one-time costs each new student in the system will need.

In economist jargon, this is the capital cost of each new student. According to the WCBOE, each new home will bring .41 new students into the system. (This is consistent with the numbers from other counties as well as Tischler report.) This means that every 100 new houses will create 41 new students.

Last year, before the record number of new subdivision approvals, there were already more than 6,000 building lots already approved in this county.

If you crunch the numbers, these 6,000 lots will create 2,460 new students in the system and this will cost taxpayers $38,818,800. Yes, that is more than $38 million we, the existing taxpayers, are going to be forced to pay!

I can hear several commissioners say that the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO) is designed to take care of the cost of new development. Well, let's do the math. The commissioners are considering increasing the APFO fees to $800 per new house. Add to this 25 cents per square foot of excise tax (A 2000-square-foot home is charged $500) and developers are required to pay only $1,300 per new home. This will generate $7.8 million.

That is still over $31 million dollars short of the cost to our school system alone! Today I read that a new $3 million dollar Eastern Boulevard extension will be necessary because of new development. What about other road improvements? What about the fire and rescue costs? What about police costs? What about water and sewer costs? Who will pay these costs?

Mr. Kercheval, you have a degree in mathematics and Mr. Wivell, you are an accountant. Is there something wrong with my numbers? Can you explain to me and other taxpayers why developers are not required to cover the costs of the development they profit from? Why does Frederick County charge developers more than $17,000 for each new home while Washington County considers charging only $1,300? I anxiously await your response.

Joe Lane, Smithsburg

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