The nonprofit organization Friends of Frederick County is questioning whether a proposed school mitigation fee would be enough to cover the cost of needed public school improvements.

Executive Director Janice Wiles spoke about the issue Tuesday with three concerned residents and Commissioner David Gray at C. Burr Artz Public Library.

She used the Crum Farm development as an example of funds the fee could generate saying it would generate a maximum of $8.35 million while a new elementary school needed to serve the 550 new students would cost $25 million.

"That's not even a third of what it would cost to build an elementary school," Wiles said.

But the president of the Frederick Land Use Council said the fee would be more than enough because it is calculated, together with a separate impact fee already in place, to cover 115 percent of the state and county school construction costs generated by new development.

Bruce Dean, president of the Frederick County Builders Association's Land Use Council and a land-use lawyer for Crum Farm, said the figures Wiles presented are misleading because they count only the school mitigation fee and not the impact fee.

The proposal would change the way developments can proceed if they are predicted to overcrowd schools.

The proposed ordinance is scheduled for a hearing before the Frederick County Planning Commission on June 29 and then the Frederick County Commissioners on July 19.

The ordinance would allow developers the opportunity to pay a fee if they want to build in areas with overcrowded schools. Under the current Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance, developers must either wait until schools are no longer overcrowded or build an addition or new school before building more houses.

The impact fee has already been calculated by the county to cover 100 percent of the costs those students would generate. The optional mitigation fee is intended to give developers the opportunity to pay 15 percent on top of that fee in order to move projects along.

"We're offering to pay 115 percent of the costs generated, and by state law they can only charge 100 percent," Dean said. "If she thinks the numbers aren't enough, the fact is they are more than enough."

For 1,000 single-family units, the fees would generate $24 million, not $8 million, he said. Additionally, big developments take 10 to 20 years to complete if they are ever completed and school impact and mitigation fees would be adjusted every year, so it's hard to predict how much would actually be paid.

"I think it's very unfair to pretend that the mitigation fee is going to be generated but the impact fee is not," he said.

Asked why she didn't include impact fees in her analysis, Wiles said she didn't have those numbers available to her.

"I guess my real point is we haven't seen enough analysis on how this is going to play out," Wiles said. "I think we ought to have a lot of these scenarios put before us so we understand what's going on."

The current APFO has resulted in the schools going from 125 percent overcrowding to a 90 percent school system average, she said.

Two parents involved in school overcrowding issues submitted four pages of questions about the proposal to the county. Twenty-eight days later, they still hadn't heard back.

County Commissioners President Blaine Young has said staff is working to provide the answers, and will get them to the parents before the planning commission hearing.

The questions include concerns about projects' timing, how the funds would be used and how the ordinance would be implemented.

"I just don't know how this mitigation fee is going to work without having a devastating impact on any progress we've made (to reduce school overcrowding)," said Janice Spiegel, one of the parents.

Dean, who has had four children go through Frederick County Public Schools, said he understands the pressing need for school renovations. He said the current mitigation proposal is a compromise: The county has asked developers for more money to pay for both overcrowded schools and renovation projects in exchange for allowing development to move forward.

"We'll say we'll do it because it will allow us to create more jobs and get some things moving," he said.

Upcoming hearings ...The planning commission hearing on the mitigation fee is scheduled for 7 p.m. June 29 in the first-floor hearing room of Winchester Hall, 12 E. Church St. The county commissioners hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. July 19 in the same location.

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