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The school connection

July 05, 2005

Last week members of the Hagerstown Planning Commission talked about their fear that adopting an Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO) would give the Washington County School Board veto power over in-city development.

Let us suggest that both groups look at the situation not as a matter of who controls what, but about how both can work together for orderly growth and development.

Adopting its own APFO would allow the city to get a share of the building excise tax that is collected by the Washington County government.

The fee ranges from $13,000 to $31,000 per unit, depending on the type of home being built.

Getting some of that money for the city would be a good thing, but as Planning Commission Chairman Douglas Wright noted, there is a catch.

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If the schools in the area where the development is proposed don't have space for new development, the projects can't go forward.

Wright said the commissioner should respect the School Board's information, but not allow it to have the final word.

The School Board should have a big say, however, and city officials should welcome that. Families aren't going to move to an area where the schools are not only aging, as most in the city are, but also overcrowded.

The issue cries out for a meeting between city government and school officials to work out a joint agreement.

The school system can't build new facilities solely on the basis of anticipated demand, so planners need to ensure new homebuilding is done in stages, so schools aren't overwhelmed, which would mean more portable classrooms.

More troubling is City Planning Director Kathleen Maher's statement that her department doesn't have the staff to handle APFO enforcement.

Here's another situation that suggests that some consolidation of city and county agencies would not only be another step toward full cooperation, but cost-effective as well. This should be on the agenda for the next city-county meeting.

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