The undesirable middle class? Commissioner Brown is wrong about middle-income housing growth.


COMMISSIONER W. Benjamin Brown has provided us a new definition of "undesirable" -- a family with an income between $45,000 and $55,000 seeking to live in Carroll County. These objectionable people have the audacity to use more in public services than they would pay in property taxes, according to the first-term commissioner. He made the comment in response to a report by builders and others encouraging more affordable housing in Carroll.

Since the county's median household income is about $48,000, more than half of the county's population must be considered a bunch of freeloaders by Mr. Brown's definition. Apparently, only people who can afford "dream homes" are now welcome in Carroll.

Mr. Brown's so-called "bottom-line" approach doesn't add up. To categorize middle-income families -- most of which are hard-working, upstanding citizens -- as a financial drain on the county is to misconstrue the county's problems and embark on self-destructive policies.

Middle-income families with children moving into Carroll are not the source of the county's fiscal woes. The problem is that the assessable tax base rests too heavily on residential property -- existing and new -- to generate revenue. Removing the welcome mat for middle-income families is not the way to rectify the imbalance. Building the county's commercial, business and industrial tax base is. Non-residential property should make up more than a quarter of the tax base. But in Carroll, it is about 21 percent -- and falling.

If Mr. Brown's development strategy is to allow only new housing for upper-income families, Carroll can expect a troubled future. The average price of a home in the county is second in the metropolitan area behind Howard: $163,914 for an existing home and $196,290 for a new home. The county hasn't enough rental units or homes for people earning low-to-moderate incomes of $28,000 to $55,500, members of the study group said.

A healthy community is not just a high-income community. There must be a balance between income groups. By looking at Carroll through his green eye shade, Mr. Brown is getting a distorted view of his county's problems and their solutions.

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