County commissioners should be cautious with Delegate Galen Clagett’s suggested income tax increase. We’re dubious about his plan to raise the 2.96 percent rate anywhere up to 3.2 percent and channel the extra income into infrastructure: roads, bridges, schools, libraries, etc.
The county’s growth task force, a group of mostly elected officials and members of the development community such as builders and Realtors, heard Clagett’s suggestion on Tuesday at its first meeting.
Perhaps what has us and many of our readers most concerned is that the money raised will benefit residential developers that should be shouldering the cost of the increased need their projects place on roads, schools, water and sewer, fire, police and other services. Clagett, critics have claimed, is a developer proposing legislation to benefit other developers.
(In his defense in a Nov. 15 letter to the editor, Clagett argued that he’s not a developer, but the owner of a property management company involved in sales, leasing and consulting; nevertheless, the fields are interconnected, even if the benefits are indirect.)
The burden of paying for this infrastructure should not be shifted from developers to taxpayers, many of whom — property owners — are already dedicating a portion of their paychecks to local property taxes, as well as to the state through taxes on their income, at the register through a 6 percent sales tax, taxes on alcohol, 27 cents and rising on each gallon of gas, and for admissions and amusements, as well as dozens of fees.
Popular fatigue over the sheer breadth of taxes in Maryland is so high, worried lawmakers are planning to trim taxes ahead of the 2014 election.
Even so, the idea of how we pay for the impact of growth, and the added pressures it places on providing government services such as schools, police, water and sewer, libraries and emergency services, is a long-standing issue in Frederick County that plays out in every election and bubbles openly during each four-year administration.
Adding to that turbulence, the present Board of County Commissioners has effectively sidelined the adequate public facilities ordinance — which had a formula whereby the impact of developments were translated into dollar amounts — by enacting developers’ rights and responsibility agreements. These agreements mean developers pay less toward the impact of their developments, can build in overcrowded school districts, and have the advantage of long-term contracts that cannot be overturned by future county governments.
In addition, many of our readers have valid concerns that additional property taxes raised through these developments may not cover the cost of expanding county services in those areas.
While the county commissioners have told us this wave of growth is anticipated in planning, we have yet to see any statistics for how much impact new development, plus or minus, will have on the county’s treasury.
The consensus from reports crafted in other jurisdictions is that residential growth in areas without already existing services such as water, sewer and roads, costs the taxpayer more than it returns.
We concede that four studies, cited by PoliticFact Florida in a 2008 article, on different jurisdictions in that state and Georgia, may be different enough to make the comparison difficult. Even so, the findings are sobering and highlight the lack of clear information on development costs here at home.
Here’s just a taste: For every dollar spent on new residential development, taxpayers had to cough up between $1.13 and $2.27, one study that measured the cost in 14 Georgia counties discovered. The greater costs were driven by residential development in areas where the infrastructure wasn’t already present.
In towns and cities with existing roads, water and sewer systems, yes, residential redevelopment brings more benefits than costs, the same with commercial and industrial growth.
But the disparity in how much we pay for growth and how much it costs in Georgia should raise questions here at home, especially when county taxpayers are devoid of any real information about the potential impact something like the 1,500 homes of Monrovia Town Center could have when fully built out.
Unquestionably, local governments need to find reliable funding for all the services we have come to expect, that are, in fact, critical to the economy and viability of our region. But as our elected leaders look for those sources, they need to be careful about placing the burden where it belongs. Putting that responsibility on taxpayers and taking the extra money out of their paychecks is not the right way to go.