Facts Tell The Story
As Ronald Reagan liked to say, “There you go again.” If I hear one more person say “When I moved here from Montgomery County,” or “growth in Frederick County is out of control;” or, of course, “the developers are getting a free ride and not paying their fair share,” I think my head is going to explode!
And let’s not forget the ever-popular “we don’t want to turn into Montgomery County.”
When one newcomer after another whines and complains “we don’t want to turn Frederick County into Montgomery County,” I have to wonder what they mean by that. Maybe they think they should be the last ones allowed to cross the border into our county, and we should tell the unfortunates left behind they are not welcome. What would they have thought if we had said that to them 10 to 20 years ago? Or 5 years? Or, as seems to apply to the most vocal of the malcontents, last year?
Well, here are some facts. And I will preface the facts by acknowledging that most of the chronic whiners don’t want to hear the facts, because the facts show their statements to be what they truly are: Lies.
First we have not had over 1,000 residential building permits approved in any one year for the past five consecutive years. Now, when is the last time in this county our growth was that slow? It was in the late 1960s.
Yes, you heard correctly, the late 1960s. Frederick County is presently growing at a pace slower than at any time in almost 50 years. And, from this sad economic fact, we have learned one thing for sure: No rate of growth will ever be slow enough to satisfy the selfish few among us who want to pull up the drawbridge behind them, lock the door and bar any new neighbors from joining us here. It is always the ones who have lived here the shortest time who complain the loudest.
Now, let’s look at the facts concerning the school system and the rate of growth of the student population. How many new students joined our children in the entire public school system last year? Forty. That’s right, forty more students in the school system this year than last, spread out over 62 schools, an average of less than one new kid per school; and this in a school system that has system-wide capacity at every level (elementary, middle, high) and is at less than 90% capacity overall.
This is not just a one year anomaly it is a trend. We have gained only 212 students over the last six years, an average of less than 36 new students per year. All the while this current Board of County Commissioners will have added more than 500 new seats in school construction projects.
In what fantasy world do these numbers amount to out-of-control growth? You could certainly argue, and I would not disagree – in the past when Frederick County was approving over 2,500 new homes per year – that was out of control. In response to those kinds of numbers, the prior county commissioners slashed the projected rate of growth for the county – all the way to 1500 homes per year. That’s right, even the last board, beloved as they were by the no-growth crowd, agreed that 1,500 new homes each year was an appropriate and reasonable rate of growth in the county. And we are not even close to that, and in some of the last 5 years have not even done half that number.
What we are hearing now from a small – but overly agitated – number of our refugees from Montgomery County and other areas is by no means a debate on the “facts.” No, it is looking more and more like the same old scare tactics employed by rabid anti-growth people just spewing the same tired NIMBY arguments: “I am here, in paradise, and I don’t want them to let you in.”
Now, let’s talk about this so-called “free ride” developers are getting in Frederick County. I do not know how you call going out of business or laying off hard-working construction workers, or going bankrupt a free ride. Trying to stay alive and meet payroll in the worst economy in generations for the construction industry is not my idea of a free ride. I may not know as much as the brilliant people who march on Winchester Hall with no clue of the facts, but the business world is something I do know a little about. I have many friends that are entrepreneurs. I am one myself. We take risk, employ people and sign loans to start and operate a business. If there is any money left at the end of the week (or, all too often, month), we get paid. But only after our employees, the bank, the power company, the tax man and everyone else with their hand out for cash from the small business owner. If you don’t believe me, that’s fine. But unless you have ever tried it for yourself, don’t tell me it is easy, and spare me the whining about “free rides.”
Developers in Frederick County are paying more than ever in the history of Frederick County. Now there is a fact for you. Yes, we created some flexibility with the process, but they are paying for that flexibility. They are helping to fix problems not create them.
This Board of County Commissioners has been as aggressive with school construction projects as any in the history of Frederick County. We moved up the addition of Oakdale Elementary; we have come up with a plan working with developers to move up the addition of Urbana Middle, by getting developer money up front. Lincoln Elementary was just renovated and North Frederick Elementary will be renovated and completed by August 2014, all while we are experiencing the slowest student growth rate in my lifetime.
The fact is we don’t want to turn into Montgomery County. Frederick County is unique and is wonderful, and we don’t aspire to emulate anyone else. With proper planning, which means economic (and population) growth at a reasonable pace, we will retain our identity and improve our quality of life. We need and will get, with much funding from the private sector as well as tax dollars, new roads, schools, parks, fire stations and water and sewer improvements.
I have lived in Frederick County my entire life and have no desire to live anywhere else at this time. My mother and her four sons used to welcome our new neighbors with a pie or cake. Now we are told by some we should turn them away.
But if I should ever relocate, I promise the last thing I will ever do is be uninformed, call public officials derogatory names, and tell them I don’t want them turning my county into another Frederick County. That would not be neighborly.