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County has wrong fix for housing woes

October 31, 2009|By JOE LANE

Washington County has two housing problems.

The first problem is there are too many houses on the market. The second problem is there is not enough room in our schools for the number of students in the county.

Too many houses? Not enough schools? What should we do?

Commissioners John F. Barr, William J. Wivell, James F. Kercheval and Terry L. Baker have an answer. Let's build more houses and not charge developers for schools and roads. Unbelievable!

These commissioners call this gift to developers a "stimulus package." Who will get the stimulus? Not small business owners, not machine shops, not bakeries or antique malls, not dairy farmers or any other farmers. There is not a dime in this for long-term, good-paying jobs. No jobs, fixing or building schools, fixing roads or anything else in need of repair. The economy is bad all over, but only housing developers get a stimulus from the Washington County Commissioners.

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What do the taxpayers get? We get to pay for the schools, roads, water, sewer, fire, rescue, police, etc. We watch the redistricting battles rage on the pages of The Herald-Mail and the commissioners want to do the very thing that got us in this mess. They want to allow developers of new homes to build, but not pay for schools and roads.

It is interesting they voted to do this the same day The Herald-Mail published a front-page story about the recent signs of recovery of the home-building industry. Developers get a stimulus even when they don't need it. The rest of us get to pay for it.

I see this as a complete misuse of tax dollars. The fact that several commissioners are financially tied to the development industry should give us all pause. While reading the flurry of postings on The Herald-Mail's Web site and e-mails I received, I kept thinking, "I couldn't have said it better myself." So I decided to clip a few and include them here. This is just a small sample of the comments and e-mails I encountered following this vote.

The first couple of writers address some of the bogus assumptions used to justify the stimulus. They wrote:

"Study after study shows, when you give incentives to the builders/developers they pocket it -- they DO NOT pass it on to the home buyer. Once again, the commissioners roll over for the developers."

"Contractors rode the gravy train when the market was booming. They charged (two times) what the houses cost to build because they could get it. OK, that's capitalism. But the market is what it is. If the market is bad, why do I have to pick up the tab to put developers back on the gravy train?"

While homeowners watch the value of their homes go down and the number of foreclosures keeps rising, many would agree with the following writers, including a prominent real estate agent.

"... the program will flood a market already saturated with homes that are not selling, causing all homeowners to lose equity."

"Not only is this the dumbest idea I have seen come across, but they passed it! And in spite of public outcry. Who in their right mind would approve new construction when the area is already saturated with vacant homes -- a lot of them also new! Builders already built homes and couldn't sell them. So let's just add more vacancies, more back taxes on vacancies and further decrease property values and then raise taxes to support the loss."

"Pure genius to give incentives for builders to build with a market that is already saturated with empty houses! ... Absolutely ridiculous what they are doing! ... Obviously, they have some motive to devalue all of our homes here in Washington County!"

While a few developers will reap a short-term benefit, it is the long-term consequences of this decision that concern the next writer.

"The real cost of this 'program' will be the long-term lost property tax revenue as existing homes are devalued even further. That means higher property tax rates to offset the loss. Meaning ... your home will be worth less, but you will have to pay more taxes!"

"If we get more kids, but no money, how is this not going to hurt an already overcrowded school system?"

Years of allowing developers to build without charging for schools created the current school capacity crisis. Many schools look like trailer parks at this point. Even now, the commissioners so underfund school construction that the school board is forced to build giant elementary schools just to save money. Everyone would prefer smaller neighborhood schools, but this is not possible when developers are not required to pay their fair share. The redistricting battles we are having now are the direct result of the extreme pro-developer bias exhibited by our commissioners.

This leads to the next important point.

"Aren't there some public works projects that would put the same people back to work?"

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