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If developers get rate cut, who pays a greater share?

April 29, 2004

Earlier this month, after listening to Economic Development Director Tim Troxell plead the case for an office building developer who felt county fees were too high, the Washington County Commissioners voted in favor of a 75 percent cut.

On Tuesday, the commissioners were apparently in a forgiving mood again, as they listened to a staff proposal to lower fees for all sorts of development.

We have two questions: Didn't staff have a hand in drafting the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance fee schedule, which took effect only four months ago?

And more important: What has happened, besides some lobbying from some of the developers who would be affected, to justify cutting the rates now?

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The price of building schools and roads hasn't gone down, although the amount of money coming from state government has dropped. Lowering those fees now will only accomplish one thing - give the general taxpayers a bigger share of the burden.

The APFO requires developers of residential property to pay a $6,500 fee for each dwelling they build to cover school-construction costs. With the number of building permits up substantially, it makes sense to ensure that those costs are covered.

Debi Turpin, executive director of the Home Builders Association of Washington County was correct when she said that a continual increase of fees hurts hard-working families.

To keep families from being priced out of the housing market, we suggest a lower fee for houses costing $90,000 or less. Someone who can afford to pay $200,000 for a home should pay the full freight.

As for the rest of the proposals to cut fees for warehouse and distribution centers, manufacturers and retail businesses, we suggest that the fees be kept the same, but with the option to forgive some or all of the charges if there's a benefit to doing so, such as creating new jobs.

When the commissioners cut the fee for office building construction earlier this month, EDC's Troxell wouldn't say whether the building would be for an existing company or a new one, or whether any new jobs would be created.

Still, the developer got a break. We hope the commissioners think long and hard about the burden they'll place on all taxpayers if they decide to give away the store again.




These 'frequent fliers' don't get a benefit from their travel


On Tuesday, school officials told the Hagerstown Mayor and City Council what they should already know if they're regular readers of this newspaper - that too many city children move from school to school during the school year.

The problem is called "mobility" and in six city schools, an above-average percentage of the students move in and out during the school year.

School officials have tried to address it by making sure that all schools are on the same lesson at the same time.

That is meant to ensure that a student who goes from Bester Academy to Eastern Elementary School will find the class at his or her new school on the same page as pupils at the old school.

But curriculum is only part of the problem. Children moving for one school to another must deal with the anxiety of leaving old friends behind, even as they wonder whether new classmates - or their new teacher - will like them.

For the teacher, managing the classroom is difficult, with a constant stream of new students who need help learning everything from how many pencils they need to how to ask to go to the restroom.

JoEtta Palkovitz-Brown, the county's director of elementary education, said student transfers take place because of family situations, housing or employment changes.

If a marriage breaks up, or if a family is evicted because one parent loses a job, there's not much the school system can do about that. But for some cases, wouldn't it make sense to tell parents of the so-called "frequent fliers" what harm moving a child frequently can do?

In its quest to become a certified Blue Ribbon school, the staff of Salem Avenue Elementary met with parents in their homes to ask them to become partners in a quest for better education.

Perhaps an outreach effort like that, with some help from city officials, would help more children stay put long enough to learn.

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