The board also set the property tax rate.
Frederick, Md (KM) After a lengthy debate and discussion, the Frederick County Council adopted a bill to annually adjust the school mitigation fees.
The legislation sponsored by Councilman Steve McKay would update the school mitigation fees “which as we have discussed is a fee owed by a specific subset of developments who are left at this point who have voluntarily elected to use to fee to continue building into overcrowded school districts.”
The fee was enacted by the last Board of County Commissioners. It lets residential developers whose projects fail the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance schools test to pay the fee, and continue building homes. Under the APFO, they would either halt their project until school capacity catches up, or build the additional classroom space themselves.
The vote was 6-1 with Councilman Phil Dacey in opposition. He said would increase the cost of new homes. “It’s going to push some people out of the housing market,” he said. “It will also make it so that some families and people who want to move into a townhouse in some of these neighborhoods are simply not going to be able to do it.”
Councilman McKay acknowledged this bill will increase the cost of housing. “This isn’t about home affordability. This is about school affordability,” he said.
One of the co-sponsors of the legislation, Councilman Jerry Donald, is also a teacher. He says he’s had unpleasant memories of teaching in portable classrooms, and so have a lot of his former students. “Those kids are long grown up. They’re gone. They’ve had kids of their own. They’re probably in middle school or high school by now. And I couldn’t do anything for those kids back them. But I can do something for the kids coming in the future,:” he said.
Council President MC Keegan-Ayer also supported the legislation. “The developers who agreed that they would pay this fee when they were allowed to move forward and build in areas that were already overcrowded, they are now going to pay that fee that they promised to build. And the taxpayers throughout the rest of this county are not going to have to eat the difference any longer,” she said.
The mitigation fees are not used in the county any longer, and this newly passed ordinance will only cover a handful of developers who made agreements to pay the fee several years ago.
In a 6-1 vote, the Council also adopted a fiscal year 2022 budget totaling $717-million. That motion to approve also included the county’s capital budget and its five-year capital improvements program.
Councilwoman Jessica Fitzwater called it a responsible budget. “I feel confident that the proposals inside this budget are going to make sure that we have strong services in our community, and really highlight areas in public education, in equity and inclusion, in public health and public safety that we all rely on,” she said.
Councilman Phil Dacey voted in opposition. He said the county is growing and the budget should keep pace. But 7.7% growth is too much. “I do think that 7.7% increase is frankly alarming that county expenses would grow at that rate,” he said.
His colleague, Councilman Steve McKay, also had some concerns about revenue growth. “Also we are running consecutive surpluses. How to do find ways to either give some back, or not take it in the first place,” he said. “And really think about that and work on that.”
But Council President MC Keegan-Ayer called the budget an investment. “This is an investment that the County Executive and the County Council are making through the items that are funded in our children, in our families, in our seniors, in our businesses, in our community. This is a budget that investing in our people,” she said.
Before voting on the budget, the Council set the property tax rate at $1.06 per $100 of assessed value.
By Kevin McManus