The Frederick County Council may be in summer recess, but its members are working on numerous bills and policy changes before they reconvene Aug. 20.
Councilmen Steve McKay (R) and Jerry Donald (D) are tasked with drafting one of the most-discussed pieces of legislation since the first County Council was seated in December 2014 — a bill to address school construction fees.
School construction, or mitigation, fees are applied to developers that want to build in areas where schools are crowded.
McKay, who is taking the lead on the bill, said this week that he recently obtained school construction cost inflation data from state officials.
He and Donald introduced a bill back in March, but withdrew it amid concerns from some council members that the increases in fees were too high. They both said this week they’re willing to spread that increase over two to three years to provide some relief to developers.
McKay said his methodology for the bill will probably be slightly different from what County Executive Jan Gardner (D) and her administration have proposed.
Donald said he and McKay are also waiting for data from legislative analyst Sydnee Sichert, comparing the school construction fees countywide with those of other counties in the state. He added that Sichert has been busy working through amendments to Livable Frederick, the county’s proposed master planning document.
With that data, council members are “all looking at the same numbers when we make decisions,” Donald said.
Here’s a look at other issues the council is looking to address this year:
Councilwoman Jessica Fitzwater’s (D) bill, on behalf of County Executive Jan Gardner (D), using part of the county’s recordation tax for an affordable housing fund may be amended before it comes to a final vote.
Fitzwater’s current bill would allocate 1.5 percent of that tax — which is collected through real estate transfers — to the county’s Housing Initiative Fund.
It’s possible that the percentage could increase, perhaps by a point or two, Fitzwater said. She admitted that 1.5 percent is a “small” amount, but that increasing the allocation would require taking more money from the county’s general fund — and thus competing with other priorities in the budget.
“Right now, what I’m doing is just figuring how high I can push that and still be sensitive to the rest of the budget,” Fitzwater said.
If Fitzwater drafts an amendment, that would most likely require a public hearing before a final vote. Her and Gardner’s bill expires Sept. 30.
Agricultural preservation and single-use plastic are two topics Councilman Kai Hagen (D) is pursuing in the next few months.
Hagen said via email that a working group should start meeting in August regarding the use of single-use plastic products.
That work group would examine a host of issues, including the effects of single-use plastics, where other jurisdictions have enacted plastic bans or other similar legislation, the impact of that legislation, alternative materials and the public’s view of the issue, Hagen said.
“We are not assuming we know now how long this should take,” Hagen said. “I expect it to be at least two months, but the working group will help determine the final ... but still flexible deadline. It’s more important to do this right than to do [it] quickly.”
Hagen is also working on a proposal of including forested land in the county’s Installment Purchase Program, which has preserved thousands of acres of agricultural land.
He said he met with the county’s Agricultural Preservation Board in late June, which supported including wooded areas in the program but had questions about how it would logistically work. A change may not require bringing legislation forward, he said.
Council President M.C. Keegan-Ayer (D) said earlier this month she is interested in updating the county’s solar ordinance, which critics have described as restrictive. She added she is still interested in increasing the size of solar fields, but protecting prime soils countywide.
It probably won’t be until December until any legislation is drafted, she added. A work group involving members of the county’s Farm Bureau and representatives from solar companies still needs to complete its review of the current ordinance and propose changes, she said.
Council Vice President Michael Blue (R) is also pursuing change, but through the county’s zoning code in a mineral mining district, to help start a scuba diving operation near Woodsboro.
County planning staff expressed concern that any text amendment needs to be more specific to what is being proposed by quarry owner Brad Hill and scuba instructor Matt Skogebo. He hopes to introduce that amendment by October.
“When you go down and you define the definition of scuba diving, they don’t like that,” Blue said of the county’s planning staff. “I think we’re going to clean that up, and get it a little more specific to an abandoned mineral mining aquifer, or whatever we’re going to use [in terms of language].”
Convenience store uses
Councilman Phil Dacey’s bill adding “convenience store” to the list of uses for automobile filling and service stations should come to a vote Aug. 20, he said Tuesday.
That bill was amended to include “and which may include a convenience store” in its text, based on feedback from the county’s planning staff. It previously did not include “and which may include.”
Dacey (R) said he plans to introduce other legislation before the end of the year, but declined to specify any details.