As Howard’s state lawmakers head to Annapolis next week for the new legislative session, a focus remains on growth in the county as the contentious Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance will be considered by the local delegation to the General Assembly.
A largely county-level issue, state legislators are now considering a bill that would increase fees for developers wishing to build in congested areas that are “closed” to construction because of crowded schools.
The bill, if approved, would grant the County Council the authority to impose increased fees on developers that want to build in crowded parts of the county; the authority to impose increased fees must be granted by the state.
As proposed, the bill would double developers’ fees in areas where schools are between 110 and 115 percent of their capacity, and increase the fees by 200 percent in areas where schools are between 115 and 120 percent of capacity. Payment of these fees allows developers to surpass a mandated four-year waiting period to build in these areas.
The complex land-use issue has some state delegates, including Del. Robert Flanagan, wanting to learn more about the issue, and how the state can most effectively step in.
Flanagan, a Republican, said the focus should be on correcting “mistakes” that were made in the county’s 2010 General Plan that “opened the floodgates” to development without considering the impact on school populations.
Flanagan said he has been concerned by the aggressive building along the Route 1 corridor and eastern portions of Ellicott City and Elkridge.
“It’s going to take up a lot of our time during the legislative session for the Howard County caucus to really make a decision on this,” Flanagan said. “What I want to have happen is to get on a path for adequate school construction funding that is fair.”
House Delegation Chairman Eric Ebersole admitted that the state must “handle it carefully” as it begins to step into the years-long county issue that has pitted many developers and residents against one another.
Ebersole and Senate Delegation Chairman Guy Guzzone, both Democrats, said they need to wait until the County Council passes its APFO legislation before knowing what the best strategy is for the state’s bill. The council’s initial passage of its APFO bills in November was declared void as the bills were already expired by the time of the vote.
Del. Frank Turner said he anticipates more changes could be made to the county’s APFO bill before it is passed, which would effect the state’s handling of the issue. Council members Jon Weinstein and Calvin Ball have said they want to see the bill passed without further changes, while council member Greg Fox said he would like to make “reasonable modifications” to the bill so that it is not “shutting down all development.”
“Nobody can predict where exactly it’s going,” Turner, a Democrat, said.
Several other bills on the delegation’s agenda for the 90-day legislative session also deal with education, including the creation of a student loan repayment assistance program for those that have committed to teach in the county for at least five years, and to give the county’s school board the power to determine the superintendent’s term length.
Flanagan and Turner have both introduced legislation relating to the county’s transfer tax, which is paid when properties are sold. Turner’s bill would exempt teachers from the tax on their first home purchase in the county, and would limit the tax to 0.7 percent on later purchases.
“One of the problems that you have with teachers is that they teach in the county but can’t afford to live in the county,” Turner said. “One of the ways that you can continue to attract teachers to Howard County is allowing them to live here [and] be a part of the community.”
Flanagan’s transfer tax bill would allow the County Council to increase the maximum amount of money from the tax that is put towards the School Site Acquisition and Construction Fund from 25 percent of the funds to 50 percent. This change would give the county more money to build schools at a time when it is looking to rapidly expand, with plans underway for a 13th high school and 43rd elementary school.
The General Assembly’s session begins on Jan. 10, and a public hearing will be held in the county this winter to hear testimony on statewide bills.