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As Long as We Remember...

August 4, 2011

A New Path to School Construction

Blaine R. Young

On July 19 the Board of County Commissioners adopted a revision to the county’s Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance. After months of debate and numerous public meetings and hearings, the commissioners added a mitigation fee to address a situation where a school serving the project is at greater than 100% capacity.


Rather than facing the prospect of the project being permanently shut down, which is an increasing likelihood in this era of reduced state and local funding availability, the developer has a new option now – pay an additional fee to augment school construction funds.


The proposal for the mitigation fee option was first presented to the commissioners jointly by the Land Use Council of the Frederick County Builders Association and the Frederick County Chamber of Commerce. Through the numerous debates and discussions on the issue the commissioners tightened up a few of the crucial provisions of the ordinance.


First, they required that the entire fee be paid on every unit in the project, even if only some of the units will be constructed after a school goes over capacity.


Secondly, the Land Use Council and the Chamber had suggested that the mitigation fee be paid on each unit individually at the time of the issuance of a building permit for a home on each lot, in the same manner as the impact fee currently is paid. The commissioners accelerated the payment schedule and required that the fee be paid up front, in full upon the recordation of subdivision plats for lots in the development. This will significantly accelerate the payment of mitigation fees. The fees for an entire neighborhood will be paid upfront in one lump sum rather than in dribs and drabs as building permits trickle in.


Finally, the commissioners put a 120% cap on the mitigation fee option. This means that the option may not be utilized and construction may not begin if any school to be served by the development is greater than 120% of capacity when the project is proposed.


As I said over and over again, the next two school construction projects, which are both in the City of Frederick, are the renovation of North Frederick Elementary and Frederick High. These two projects are projected to cost about $100 million combined. At this point we do not have anywhere near enough money on hand or projected to be raised to construct/renovate these projects, and the commissioners considered the mitigation fee request as a means to supplement funds available for these projects.


During the debates at public meetings and hearings, I asked (at last count at least 29 times) if anyone had an alternative suggestion for raising additional money to build schools. My repeated inquiries were consistently met with silence. To this day I have not heard any of the opponents of this fee suggest an alternative plan. Many people like to object to new ideas, but do not assume the responsibility of formulating ideas of their own.


The commissioners do not have that luxury. At any meeting that involves representatives and advocates for our schools, we hear about the deplorable conditions at North Frederick Elementary, Frederick High and at other schools. I have told the concerned parents and educators that during my term as commissioner I will do everything I can to see to it that funds are raised to build these two projects. I would like nothing more than to have a groundbreaking on the renovation of North Frederick Elementary before this board leaves office. The adopted ordinance establishing this fee has a five-year sunset clause. After five years it can be evaluated and determined then if it should be extended.


It is important to note that the City of Frederick is now making good on its promise to consider a school mitigation fee of its own as an addition to its APFO. It is vitally important that the city consider the adoption of such a fee and that – not only is the next $100 million to be spent on school construction earmarked for city projects – the bulk of the future residential development in Frederick County is likely to occur within city limits. The city needs to step up to the plate and do its part to address the shortfall of school construction funding even if that makes taking a little bit of heat from a few people who seem to be professional objectors to new ideas.


Let’s all hope the mayor and aldermen adopt this addition to the city’s APFO. I believe they will. It is time to stop pointing fingers when it comes to building and improving infrastructure, especially when dealing with schools and roads. We can no longer be depended on the state and federal government for the funds necessary to solve our infrastructure needs.


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