County Councilman Steve McKay is back at work on a proposal that would get more money for much-needed school construction in the county. Good for him.

The pandemic has delayed McKay’s plans, which were first unveiled in 2019, but now he is expected to revive the issue in the new year.

His legislation would provide for a big increase in the school construction and mitigation fees paid by developers who want to build in areas where schools are above 100 percent capacity, the definition of crowding under Frederick County’s ordinances.

In 2018, the County Council passed legislation introduced by its then-President Bud Otis that increased the school construction fees, basing them on data from the state’s annual School Construction Cost Index. Otis’ ordinance added 2 percent to the school construction fees but limited maximum annual increases to 6 percent.

Councilman Jerry Donald was one of two “no” votes in a 5-2 vote on that legislation, arguing the fee increase did not go far enough.

Democrat Donald and Republican McKay — bipartisan buddies — have worked together on other issues, most recently the charter changes approved by voters in November to amend the method for filling vacancies in county elective offices.

But Donald said he is letting McKay take the lead on the school construction fees bill. They had previously cooperated on an impact fees bill passed by the council 6-0 in April 2019. Developers pay impact fees to fund schools and libraries, no matter the capacity situation.

Janice Spiegel, education liaison for County Executive Jan Gardner, is currently working with Budget Director Kelly Weaver on a report to the County Council that will update on school construction cost situation and show where the school mitigation fees should be.

According to the 2020 report, published at the beginning of the year, mitigation fees for a single detached family home were $4,444 per unit, Spiegel said. But according to more recent calculations using the state’s School Construction Cost index, the fee would be $7,606.

Despite the economic dislocation of the pandemic, home sales have continued to be strong in Frederick County. It is clear that developers could easily absorb an increase in the mitigation fee, which is generally passed on to the homebuyer. Prices have been rising here, so adding a few thousand dollars to the price of a new home is not going to hurt the market.

McKay and Donald proposed a bill last year to raise the fees in line with the state index, but other council members balked at such a large increase. They pulled the proposal, planning instead to phase in the increases over two or three years.

Now, however, McKay said that since the housing market was booming in 2020 and the developers avoided the first year of any additional costs, he was “leaning” toward increasing the fees immediately.

Opponents of fee increase in the building industry argue that higher fees hurt the county’s goal of keeping housing affordable. McKay disputed that.

“The homes that we’re talking about, [where] the developers owe this fee, are not affordable home products,” McKay told News-Post reporter Steve Bohnel. “They’re new home products that are selling at the high end of the market.”

We agree. The need for more money for school construction outweighs the minimal impact on new home prices in the fastest growing areas.

We would encourage Donald and McKay to join forces once again to push for the school funding bill.

(16) comments

Frayou

Too little and much too late. Should have happened a long time ago. A time when local politicians & business owners were looking down Rt 70 & 270, Howard & Montgomery Counties, mouths watering wishing for similar opportunities to occur in Frederick County. Thirty years later, welcomed, both opportunities as well as all the related problems, social & economic.

francesca_easa

Push developers out of town.

jsklinelga

francesca

Unlikely. We are talking big time bucks with the lure of easy money. And we are talking about an industry dominated by mega builders with the cash and political muscle to make every large tract landowner's vision of sugar plums become a reality. There is only one thing that could truly slow development: realizing it's devastating effect on the climate and the environment. But not likely..

gjthuro

Sure hope Steve runs for County Exec, he is a man for and of the people which will be a pleasant change for the better

Piedmontgardener

On the whole, I give Jan very high marks. But I'd vote for Steve in a minute, he's head and shoulders above the rest of the folks in County Government who might run.

MD1756

Impacts fees are way too low and should include more than just where schools are at or over 100% capacity and should consider much more than just needed school funding. Roads, wastewater, stormwater quality of life impacts, etc. all need to be addressed and paid for especially when the income, sales and property tax revenues don't pay for the growth. The state already has an underfunded pension system yet politicians keep adding t government services that used to be the responsibility of the people (and especially the parents).

Greg F

What builders should be contributing to is road improvements. Like that massive earth destroying development off Gas-House Pike stretching back to 40 that decimated a chunk of real estate. Gas House Pike....that thing should be doubled in size given the development out that way that has been allowed to run rampant without a care to how it impacts traffic.

jsklinelga

Mr. McKay,

You are a serious man. Hardworking with good intentions. Thank you.

In the early 90's, as a small builder, I lobbied vigoursly for impact fees. Many argued against it saying the money would only create more spending. How prescient. And it became the death knell for small custom builders.

In this past election the country was split down the middle. Possibly farther right if Trump fatigue was not a factor. One of the primary issues was education. Throughout this country there is a growing opposition to the public education system. for a multitude of reasons.

The 640 million dollar question is : Will all the school construction money be directed to the public education system? Does that violate the equal protection rights of the growing number that feel, for conscience sake, they can not send their children to public schools yet are required by law to provide education for their children? Would that stand up under the scrutiny of the courts?

Greg F

Schools are being defunded by the GOP and made obsolete by the deeds of those like DeVoss, who being UTTERLY UNQUALIFIED for her position, was set on a task to do as much damage as she could to any educational institution possible, with the aim at diverting kids to charter schools where anti-science and religious ramblings are put forth, along with revisionist history....and a lack of consistency. That's the GOP mantra all along. Dumb them down so they can't think well enough to not vote against their own interests, and pull out the key cards they want instead.

MD1756

School funding is the responsibility of the states. Any under funding in Maryland is the County and state's fault.

marinick1

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francesca_easa

Greg, I know of one family who years ago took advantage of a school voucher to get their kid out of a horrendous school system in Baltimore City. And yes, it was a Catholic School. But at least their son was safe and able to learn. Not sure if the family still lives in Baltimore or was able to sell snd get out. Now that we recently learned FCPS receives around $11,000 a year for each student, it would seem to be in line with the yearly cost of a private school (minus uniforms).

Greg F

I don't disagree that there are horrible schools. They are generally in degraded areas that have seen flight out by anyone who could do it, and fewer students than likely in past generations, in worn out buildings to boot. Add the budget cuts done by past administrations and absolute devastating policies by the likes of DeVoss and others like her over the past 30-40 years, there you go...we have schools that have been long neglected while others have thrived. Guess where they are....where the brown people the GOP don't like reside. Wonder why they did that. Hmmm. Given who's in the Oval Office now, there is no doubt as to why.

MD1756

Again GregF the primary responsibility for funding public education lies at the state and local levels. Therefore the blame for any underfunding lies with the states and more so with the local governments. To help correct the under funding how about eliminating the income tax deductions/credits parents get for having children and putting that money towards education? Any problems with that idea? If not you should write your state and local politicians demanding that parents be taxed at least the ssame amount as those with no children especially since a significant portion of the state's budget goes to issues for children and at the local level in some cases, the funding for public education alone is 50% or more of the local governments' budgets (just look at MoCo).

marinick1

[thumbup][thumbup]

FlyFisherman

Base tuition at St. John’s Catholic Prep is $17,000, at Bullis it’s $48,000, at Mercersburg Academy $36,000 commuter and $61,000 Boarding. FCPS cost per pupil is 23rd in the state out of 24 school districts while our County wealth is ranked 6th or 7th in the state.

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