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Commissioners giving developers a free ride

May 30, 2004|by Paul G.H. Wolber

Consider the plight of a businessman who believes he could make more money if he owned another piece of excavating equipment. Unfortunately, the price tag of $60,000 is more than he wants to pay for the equipment. No problem. Complain to the dealer that the price is unreasonable and offer a "fair" price of $15,000. Fearing unfavorable publicity and loss of the account, the dealer immediately caves in and accepts the buyer's offer. Right?

Wrong.

Employing somewhat less abrupt terminology, the dealer tells the customer to go fly a kite. This is precisely the action which should be taken by the Washington County Board of Commissioners in instances in which the county's land butchers (euphemistically known as "developers") demand a reduction in Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance fees, threatening to sue if their demands are not met.

So let them. Were not the legal aspects of the APFO fees investigated by the county attorney when the APFO fee schedule was adopted?

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Do not the members of the board have the intestinal fortitude to enforce their own regulations? When (if ever) is the board going to seriously consider the best interests of the taxpaying public rather than those of a few special interests?

You were elected to promote the public welfare, not to line the pockets of land butchers and other special interests. The court of public opinion is on the side of the beleaguered taxpayer by a large majority. It is your responsibility to take whatever action is necessary to protect and preserve the quality of life in Washington County prior to the advent of the recent breed of land butchers.

Somewhere along the line, the land butchers have succeeded in inverting the law of supply and demand. A case in point is that of the poor developer who cannot afford to build a large office building in the Maugansville area. His claim that the county will gain 100 jobs from the project is ridiculous.

The bulk of jobs created by the availability of the new facility will be nothing more than a transplantation of jobs from existing sites to the new facility with "creation" of virtually no new jobs. In short, there is no demonstrated need for new office buildings in Washington County. There are literally dozens of vacant buildings in the county that could readily be converted for office housing if needed. The only "need" for additional new office space is in the minds of a few developers. It is time for the board to apply the law of supply and demand properly: Demand creates supply (not vice versa).

Incidentally, in the final analysis APFO fees are not paid by the land butcher, but by the consumer (purchaser of the unit). As you well know, impact fees in Frederick County and other potential growth areas of the state are substantially higher than your APFO fees. There is no valid reason newcomers to an area should not pay for at least a portion of the public facilities they will enjoy. If they can't, or are unwilling to do so, they should be precluded from occupancy. We don't need free loaders, whether developers or consumers.

And regarding the billboard issue: Could the commissioners be advising business interests to get their billboards in place before the board is pressured to enact a restrictive billboard ordnance? In any event, it appears the board is reluctant to take any action to protect the citizens of Washington County against billboard atrocities.

According to recent newspaper reports, at least one board member claims the opportunity to read highway billboards enhances his quality of life. I assure you he has little company. If you doubt the citizens of the county feel advertising billboards are a blight on the landscape of the county, just ask them.

To the best of our knowledge there is no proof that billboard advertising is cost-effective. On the contrary, the major effect of such expenditure is to increase the cost of doing business and add to inflation. In any event, several far-sighted Maryland counties have enacted a complete ban on highway billboards. The Washington County Board of Commissioners should waste no time in following suit.

Paul G.H. Wolber is a resident of Hagerstown.

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