The ongoing debate over the responsibilities of developers doing business in Frederick County continued Tuesday as the Frederick County Council considered a bill to raise school construction fees.
The optional fee, which was available to developers between July 2011 and 2016, allowed builders to move forward with their projects even if they did not have adequate school capacity in the area. The arrangement differs from an impact fee, which is imposed on developments regardless of available school capacity.
About a dozen developments have outstanding agreements to pay school construction fees. The fees differ by type of housing that fails to meet school adequacy as well as the level of the affected school.
For example, the fee for a detached house that doesn’t meet requirements would be $3,977 at the elementary level, $1,752 at the middle school level and $3,721 at the high school level. A proposal from County Executive Jan Gardner would raise the fees by around 56 to 72 percent across those categories. Using the single-family house example, the measure would raise the fee to $6,924, $2,745 and $5,803, respectively.
If approved, the increase would be the first since 2014. Proposals to raise the fee in 2015 and 2016 did not get the support of the council.
Speakers with ties to the housing and development industries naturally spoke out against the proposed increase.
Land-use attorney Noel Manalo urged the council to “take a hard look at the justification” for the amount of the increase.
The increase, according to Assistant Budget Director Kelly Weaver and Education Liaison Janice Spiegel, was calculated to reflect the rise in the state’s school construction index, a statewide average of how much school construction costs have risen over time.
Other speakers against the proposal told the council that raising the fee would adversely affect construction and related industries, hurting the livelihoods of residents employed in those fields.
Terry Kernan, a loan officer from Presidential Bank Mortgage, said the proposal worried him because it would affect growth by creating a higher demand for resales instead of new construction. He added that it would increase housing prices.
“We’re not adding a value to these houses, we’re adding a fee,” he said.
Poppy Saville, an Ijamsville resident in favor of the bill, said that people would be willing to pay more for houses if their local school didn’t have to use portable classrooms.
Hebba Hassanein, also of Ijamsville, said she believed the idea behind the fee was to make sure that school construction kept pace with development.
“If you’re not collecting the right fee, you’re not keeping pace,” she said.
The League of Women Voters echoed a similar sentiment. Shirley McDonald said that the group believed the county wouldn’t be able to meet the demands of new residents without increasing the amount it collects from the dozen developments.
The council will mull over the testimony and consider a vote on the fee change at a later date.