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Commissioners Rush Decision on $3,000 School Impact Fee for New Homes, Critics Question Revenue Potential

Carroll County commissioners recently voted 3-2 in favor of implementing a school impact fee of $3,000 for every new single-family home constructed in the county, effective September 1. The fee is intended to generate funds for school construction and additions, but critics are raising concerns about its timing and potential effectiveness.

The vote saw Commissioners Ed Rothstein, Ken Kiler, and Joe Vigliotti supporting the measure, while Commissioners Mike Guerin and Tom Gordon expressed opposition, questioning the fee’s effectiveness. 

Ted Zaleski, Carroll County’s Budget Director, highlighted projections from CCPS and the state of Maryland indicating an increase in the school-age population, and urged the commissioners to discuss changes to the fee structure. “The time is here to begin talking,” said Zaleski.

The decision to introduce the impact fee was largely viewed as symbolic by Commissioner Ed Rothstein who stated that “this fee sends the right message.”  The commissioners also settled on a fee half the rate of $6,000 from a decade ago, which avoids a comprehensive study.  Rothstein continued, “changing from zero to ‘something’ is a good idea.”

However, the urgency with which the decision was made and the absence of a comprehensive long-term plan for funding schools have sparked growing concern among residents and stakeholders. Many critics argue that a thorough study is not to be avoided; instead, it is necessary to understand how revenue from the impact fee can be maximized and whether it will be sufficient to address the county’s revenue shortfall.

The fee structure, ranging from $3,000 for single-family homes to $3,500 for townhomes, $1,125 for multi-family dwellings, and $1,500 for mobile homes, is predicted to generate marginal revenue, particularly with projections of new residential development declining due to inflation and interest rates.

Commissioner Mike Guerin aptly pointed out, “The data on new housing construction strongly suggests that an impact fee would not have an impact.” Historical averages indicate that the fee might only generate a modest $800,000 annually, insufficient to cover the cost of a single school expansion.

While the fee is tied to the need for school capacity and student enrollment, critics argue that it fails to address the broader infrastructure demands of a growing population.

In contrast, most of Maryland’s 14 counties with impact fees or excise taxes allocate those funds towards critical areas like infrastructure, libraries, community colleges, transportation, public safety, parks, recreation, and water/sewer utilities, in addition to school construction.

Expanding the scope of impact fees could potentially finance various infrastructure projects linked to population increases, like the $2 million Georgetown Boulevard road expansion project for the Freedom District residential developments.

As Carroll County confronts future challenges in education and development, the way officials address the controversy surrounding the new school impact fee remains uncertain. Residents are eagerly waiting to see if adjustments will be made to create a more balanced and fiscally responsible plan for the county’s growth.

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