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January 5, 2016

County raising taxes to pay for gross waste

Ken Kellar

The Frederick County Council is preparing to raise taxes again. This time it will be impact fees for new home construction. The fees will rise from over $14,000 to over $15,000 per home or townhome.


These fees are collected for infrastructure development including schools. The county and Delegate Kathy Afzali are blaming state prevailing wage legislation for increasing the cost of school construction by about 15%.


I won’t argue that federal and state meddling with the markets in favor of union lobbyists raises the cost of school construction. But I think this is small potatoes compared to more general inefficiency and waste.


I offer a short exercise to attempt to make my point.


The three most recent elementary school projects in the county are each slated to cost about $42 million per school with each school adding 725 seats. Is $42 million for 725 seats expensive? At $58,000 per seat that seems high to me, but to what can I compare? Well, let’s run a thought experiment to try to get a feel for what a 725-seat school should cost.


In today’s housing market, I think one could build a 3,000 square foot home in our county for $500,000 on a small lot. That would be a home with two floors each 30 x 50 feet.


In my experiment I will set up one 25-student classroom in a 3,000 square foot home. Perhaps I’ll turn the typical large family room into the classroom. I will use the rest of the home for school administration: offices, lounges, library space, utilities, restrooms, lunch room, etc. We even have an unfinished basement for material storage and an attached garage to park some of those shiny Frederick County Public Schools (FCPS) SUVs we see around town.


Since the school/home only supports 25 kids, I need to build a total of 29 of them to support the same number of kids one of our new $42 million/725-kid schools supports (29 x 25 = 725). When the bell rings, children will travel between the 29 buildings to swap class, if needed, similar to what our children do when they have classes in a trailer or out-building.


So, what would my 29-home/school cost? 29 x $500,000 = $14.5 million. Wow! That is way less than the $42 million FCPS is paying!


But, my homes don’t meet the requirements of a school you might think. Maybe the $42 million includes furniture and special features unique to schools. Fair enough.


So think of the specific shortfalls of my approach and cost out the adjustments. I’ll just assume you are right and I’ll double all the costs: land, materials and labor. That brings me from $14.5 million to $29 million. Since the FCPS are spending $42 million for their school, I still have ($42- $29) or $13 million per 725-person school left to invest or give back to the county.


Another way of looking at this is assume that FCPS is paying $1.44 million for each homes I am buying for $500,000.


So, did recent state legislation increase the cost of building our schools? Yes. Is that the biggest problem with Frederick County Public School costs? According to my calculations, absolutely not!


This month, the left side of our county government will raise taxes (fees) to try to keep up with FCPS wanton spending spree.


Should we try to lower school construction costs instead of raising taxes? For a lazy, self-indulgent councilman the answer is easy, “no.” It is simpler for the council to vote “yes’ for more taxes. You see, holding FCPS accountable for their gross waste would take some time and some work. The council majority and the county executive aren’t interested in that.


So, if you are dreaming of a new home in Frederick County, get back to work! Jan Gardner and her four Do-Bees are about to set you back another thousand bucks.


When someone defends the excessive FCPS spending because “It’s for the children.” You might ask, “How is wasting money and making homes cost more, ‘For the children’?”


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