Framing Frederick’s Futures – F.A.Q.’s
Having completed my introductory series of columns on “Framing Frederick’s Future,” I will take the opportunity here to answer some “Frequently Asked Questions” prompted by those columns.
QUESTION #1: How can you say residential growth pays for itself? We all know this is false.
Answer: How can you say that it doesn’t? Numerous professional studies (including those cited in my last column) show new residential housing pays for the services required and produces net economic benefits.
The question of whether residential growth pays for itself or not remains an issue because it is much easier for citizens to comprehend, in an anecdotal manner, the costs of growth than it is the fiscal and non-fiscal benefits of growth.
It is easy, and not incorrect, to assume that a growing population will increase the demand for services and, therefore, the costs of government. However, most people do not know what the fiscal and non-fiscal benefits from growth, in a quantitative manner, are and whether or not they offset the costs.
Simply put, the average direct revenue (fees and taxes) arising from each new home, are greater than the average new home’s share of government costs. The region-specific empirical studies demonstrate this for each category of housing (single family, townhome, multi-family). And this is before an account of the benefits associated with the additional direct and induced jobs, dedication of land for schools, parks, libraries and fire stations, and the additional retail and entertainment opportunities.
Can you show me any studies that show otherwise? Any that have been done specific to our region? I have yet to see a single study, specific to our region, that counters the weight of evidence proving residential growth pays for itself.
QUESTION #2: With the history you’ve given about the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO), how can you support the current APFO, which lets developers buy their way out of paying for the impacts they cause to schools?
ANSWER: How can you justify a more stringent APFO schools test when Frederick County Public Schools enrollment figures for March 2014 show a system-wide capacity of 88%? This level of capacity is justification for closing schools in some jurisdictions, not paying for new ones.
I concede anecdotal evidence about “crowded” school halls and a “proliferation” of portables – but are these not more directly results of policies related to mandated class sizes, ages of attendance, school schedules/calendars, and decisions about redistricting, and less about new houses?
QUESTION #3: Even if schools are at 88% capacity system-wide, we can’t pay teachers such a low wage and expect to add more houses and students to the county, can we?
ANSWER: Is the expenditure of Board of Education money really a question of new residential growth, or a question of efficiency and budgeting? On the school system’s web page, I see that the Superintendent of Schools has reporting to her a Deputy Superintendent, a Chief Operating Officer, and a Chief of Staff – with approximately 80 administrative positions under these bureaucrats (http://www.fcps.org/site/Default.aspx?PageID=246).
In addition, are not “public” schools the government’s schools? Is it efficient for a "union” to represent the government employees (the teachers) in collective bargaining negotiations against itself (the Board of Education & superintendent)? Isn’t this essentially the taxpayers vs. the taxpayers?
QUESTION #4: You can’t seriously support more residential growth, given the amount of current traffic congestion, can you? Do you know how long I sit on 270 every morning?
ANSWER: If we put a freeze on building permits tomorrow and didn’t build another house in Frederick County, you would still deal with traffic, and it would get worse.
As long as there is housing demand, it will be met. Currently, it is being met in Loudoun County, VA, Berkeley and Jefferson counties, WV, and Adams County, PA, and additional locations west and north.
People will keep building houses in those locations, and the traffic through Frederick County will increase – even without a single new house being built in Frederick County!
The current APFO requires developers and builders to contribute to local and regional road improvements, which ultimately spur on more holistic funding and solutions. That funding would be non-existent without residential growth.
QUESTION #5: Well, it’s really all of the jobs in DC, isn’t it? We should focus on business development here in Frederick County, not residential development.
ANSWER: I agree about jobs, except businesses won’t locate here without a robust supply of residential housing to support them. Move-in ready housing stock, the supporting commercial and other services to residences and businesses, are keys to attracting new companies (in addition to tax policy, etc.).
QUESTION #6: Don’t you think we should just let residential growth “grow responsibly,” so that we don’t become another Montgomery County?
ANSWER: According to the U.S. Census “QuickFacts:”
2013 Population estimate 1,016,677 241,509
Median Household income $96,985 $83,706
# of business firms (2007) 115,471 21,430
BA degree or higher,
persons age 25+ 56.9% 37.5%
poverty level 6.5% 5.7%
Building Permits (2012) 3,981 1,004
I do not believe there is anything any county executive and county council could do to make Frederick County become Montgomery County in 3-4 generations, even if it tried. History, economics and demographics have more control over this than County government policy.
So long as the jobs, businesses, economic wealth, educated workforce and supporting population exist “down the road”, we’ll likely see the separation continue. If economic and population trends continue, we should be more concerned about becoming Allegany County:
2013 Population estimate 73,521 241,509
Median Household income $39,087 $83,706
# of business firms (2007) 5,071 21,430
BA degree or higher,
persons age 25+ 16.1% 37.5%
poverty level 16.1% 5.7%
Building Permits (2012) 38 1,004
Allegany County had 38 building permits in 2012 – is that the growth we’re looking for – for Frederick County? Do we want to be like Allegany County?
If we put the brakes on yet again, choke the residential development pipeline, and disrupt the investments in Frederick County that have just started up again after the 2007-2008 recession (which was compounded by the subdivision moratorium and anti-growth policies of the time), our fragile economic situation may trend toward Allegany’s.
I, for one, hope this does not happen.