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December 4, 2015

Solving Serious Problems Simply

Guest Columnist

Kirby Delauter

County Executive Jan Gardner said in her previous Emmitsburg News-Journal article that her campaign promise was to “restore trust in government and protect taxpayers.” As far as trust in government goes, there are more backroom deals today within Winchester Hall, than during prohibition in the 20s.


If you don’t think so, ask Aurora holdings about trust in county government after the eminent domain shakedown they went through with the Citizens Nursing Home debacle.


Ask the former ethics commission members who had their vote overridden by Ms. Gardner with her Executive Order powers.


Ask the owner of South Mountain Creamery, a farmer who has been trying to get a building approved so he can automate and milk more cows to produce more product and pay his bills.


Ask the Besher family that watched Council President Bud Otis overturn the favorable 4-3 vote to allow them to hook up to the public sewer that runs through their own property! The head-spinning result of this vote to overturn this sewer connection is that the Beshers will now build the homes with a septic system within a few hundred feet of Linganore Creek.


Council Member Jerry Donald voted to deny access to the hookup to the public sewer line thus increasing the likelihood – over time – of sewage entering Linganore Creek. Yes, this is the same Council Member Donald who is introducing increased regulations on private land owners for stream buffers to (get this)…… keep our streams cleaner. Here’s a news flash Mr. Donald: not building septic systems next to a creek is far better practice to keep our streams clean than your land grabbing water buffoon bill.


On to school construction issues. Our county executive wrote last month about this issue as well. She writes about residential development paying its fair share, and you know what, I agree with her. Let’s start with Spring Ridge development on Route 144 east of Frederick. Ms. Gardner lives in this development of 1,900 homes, and some of these residents paid $0 impact fees for schools and most paid as little as $2000.


Let’s do the math. Nineteen hundred that pay an impact fee of $12,000, (the current fee of $14,000 – the $2000 they paid) this would come to $22,800,000. I have proposed that we issue a bond for this amount and do a 30-year assessment on those homes, and over 30 years, they would pay $400 annually to pay their fair share, just as our Ms. Gardner claimed.


The first thing that was brought out against this method by the four Democrats on the County Council was to say that they would not recommend doing a retroactive impact fee. Why not? You four Democrats voted to retroactively breach a contract with Aurora and take back a nursing home.


County Executive Garner is racking her brain to find ways to fund schools. My question is simple, you ran for office with a platform of schools, schools, schools. And you won. Now one year into your term you readily admit you have no clue how to fix the problem.


You’re proposing the same tired argument that developers are evil and they don’t pay their fair share. The same solutions you propose today, you proposed 20 years ago when you were first elected and look at what we have today……….school funding issues.


Obviously, Ms. Gardner, you have no plan to fix the problem because as long as there is a problem, you remain relevant. You want to increase impact fees, which will actually get you zero dollars to work with. This is not a solution. It’s a campaign promise, and a bad one to boot.


You did take one giant step into solving Frederick County Public Schools issues. You hired a person who worked on your campaign to be the liaison to the Board of Education at a $50,000 annual salary. Her sole purpose is to find solutions for FCPS issues. I asked a few weeks ago what her plan was to fix these problems. I’m still waiting for that answer.


If there is one person in the room who has less of a clue about how to fix the problem than you do, it is her. My method is different, I actually want to solve the problem. As shown above, this one simple solution would build an elementary school.


Here’s the rest of what I would do and the dollars they will generate.


·         Spring Ridge Impact fee fairness bill. $22,800,000.00.


·         A blue light special on impact fees for builders who apply and pay up front between now and June 1, 2016. Make it a 30% discount which would yield approximately $10,000 per fee, assume 1000 permits are issued under this, the yield is $10,000,000.


·         Have contractors/engineers/architects value engineer Frederick High School: approximate savings per some contractors I’ve spoken to is $15,000,000.


·         Do a pilot program on Frederick High School to relax storm water regulations: approximate savings $5,000,000.


·         Use standard market-driven wage rates in lieu of prevailing wage rates: approximate savings $10,000,000.


·         Remove the synthetic fields from Frederick High School, use plain turf fields: approximate savings $1,000,000.


·         Use a public/private partnership to have the private sector build the school and the Board of Education lease the property back. We should be in the education business, not the building or building maintenance business. This would allow more dollars to go to teacher salaries than Capital Improvement Programs.


As you can see, my plan yields $63M as is, and there is more if we can utilize public/private partnerships to our advantage. Sometimes the answer is right under your nose, staring you in the face.


We can’t continue to say that this is the way we’ve always done it. That’s not good enough; we need to think outside the box. When problems come up in construction of new schools, we try to define the problem, then go for the solution. Sometimes the answer is right in front of you.


The county executive held a round table to learn some reason as to why school construction costs are skyrocketing, but didn't hear many solutions on how to fix the problem.


The problem is similar to the one NASA encountered when asked "how do we get an ink pen to write in space?" They were trying to solve the issue of having an ink pen to write in zero gravity, time after time it failed. Finally they spent a lot of money to solve this problem. Tax dollars spent, problem solved.


The Russians, on the other hand, looked at the problem from a totally different angle. They simply asked: "How can we write in space?" The answer was right in front of them..........a #2 pencil.


School construction is no different. We can keep spending hundreds of millions of dollars on new schools (the ink pen in space), or we can look at the answers right under our noses and make it as simple as the #2 pencil.............and implement them.


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