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Let's sharpen the tools that manage growth

October 28, 2006|by Donna Brightma

Rapid growth is managed through a coordinated application of management tools and political courage. Washington County's present toolbox includes: a comprehensive plan, rural zoning, an Adequate Public Facility Ordinance (APFO), along with an excise tax. The following four enhancements could improve the results of these land-use planning tools.

1. Our comprehensive plan must be updated to reflect the reality of water and sewer limitations under the new and more restrictive state and federal regulations. This revision should include well and septic standards for our rural areas that recognize our geological constraints. We should initiate small area or "mini comp" plans throughout the county to reflect the diverse needs and realities of those specific regions and coordinate them with the master plan.

2. Rural and urban zoning maps should be coordinated and reflect the comprehensive plan. When zoning maps and comprehensive plans are out of phase, bad decisions occur and the door is open for inappropriate rezoning actions. The Rural Village Designated Areas must be carefully managed and reflect the original intent.

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3. The APFO assigns a value to a certain level of growth and triggers a mitigation fee. Our APFO focuses primarily on school construction. We must not neglect public safety, roads, parks, libraries, water/sewer and wells/septic, historical and environmental impacts.

4. Eighty percent of our revenue stream for capital improvement projects comes from excise and transfer taxes, APFO fees, grants and pay-go funds. These revenue sources are fluid and we must be prepared to anticipate those fluctuations with a contingency funding plan and realignment of priorities. For example, the present excise tax pays $9,300 toward the construction cost for one school seat, whereas, the actual cost of an elementary seat is $30,000 and a high school seat is $50,000. Who will pay for that funding gap demands political courage and balance.

To utilize these tools we need improved communications among staff and elected officials of the county, schools and municipalities. The institutional barriers that prevent meaningful dialogue must come down.

This is a critical time for Washington County. Please consider joining me in a coalition of the concerned to start planning for our future.

Donna Brightman is a candidate for Washington County Commissioner

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