After lengthy discussion and debate, the Frederick County Council approved six amendments to Councilman Steve McKay’s (R) development, rights and responsibilities (DRRA) bill.
McKay had originally proposed five amendments, but after hearing input from Councilwoman Jessica Fitzwater (D), he and council members decided to split the first amendment into two. One was decreasing the minimum number of units in a DRRA from 1,500 to 900 — except for mixed use development districts, would be lessened to 600 units.
The other was increasing the overall term limit from five to eight years, with one possible extension of five years.
The first amendment passed 6-1, with Councilman Jerry Donald (D) opposed. The other one passed 4-3, with Donald, Council President M.C. Keegan-Ayer (D) and Councilwoman Jessica Fitzwater opposed.
Donald said he’s still deciding on whether to support the bill, given the six amendments. He was, however, opposed to lengthening the term length.
“The longer you go with these DRRA amendments, the more room you have for things to go wrong over time,” Donald said. “I’m not much in favor of [DRRAs] in the first place, so making them longer can make them go out of whack between what you were intending in the first place, and where you wind up.”
One amendment the council unanimously supported discussed enhanced public benefits. Those can either be developers transferring land to the county, or infrastructure improvements like an interchange, wing on a public school, park or other options.
In a 7-0 vote, the council approved the amendment, which stated the developer must either transfer land to the county during the term of the DRRA, or provide a financial guarantee — like a letter of credit or performance bond — that a certain infrastructure improve would be completed, before the end of the DRRA.
Other amendments included amending the appeal process for any party who felt “aggrieved” by a DRRA, defining agreement in the bill as a DRRA or any amendments and that “any superior interest with a power of sale must be subordinated to the position of the county,” eliminating the allowance of finance guarantees from developers.
That last amendment generated lengthy debate during the meeting. McKay said he created the amendment to provide the county more financial power in the DRRA process.
“The developer could go through bankruptcy, come out of bankruptcy with their development rights intact, by having been cleaned of their responsibilities, without doing something,” McKay said.
Councilman Phil Dacey (R) opposed the amendment. He said he couldn’t support it without knowing long-term consequences.
“Frederick [County] could lose out on some opportunities from national or international-type companies that simply will not subordinate as a matter of policy,” Dacey said.
The amendment passed 5-2, with him and Donald opposed.
Dacey, McKay propose cuts to fiscal 2020 budget
Prior to the DRRA discussion, Dacey and McKay briefly discussed amendments to the proposed 2020 fiscal operating budget.
Keegan-Ayer asked the council members to keep their comments brief and broad, as the council didn’t have adequate time to review them in detail. There are 11 amendments, all of which propose cuts across various county divisions.
Those amendments propose roughly $3.8 million in cuts, and range from personnel reductions across county divisions to reducing funds to infrastructure-related projects.
Dacey said the cuts would allow the council to set a property tax rate at constant yield, which is $1.051 per $100 of assessed value. County Executive Jan Gardner (D) has proposed a property tax of $1.06, unchanged from last fiscal year.
Constant yield is calculated by state’s department of assessment and taxation, and calculates the rate at which property owners would pay the same amount in taxes as last fiscal year.
Dacey said the cuts were based on supplemental budget increases, and the base budgets of each department — and added Gardner can move money around between departments if any cuts are finalized.
“The idea was to put forth a serious proposal that would show folks we don’t need to bring in more money from property tax revenue, so hopefully my colleagues take it seriously,” Dacey said of the cuts.