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Development cap may take a big bite out of Howard County’s revenues

Howard County Executive Calvin Ball had backed a measure enacted last year that could sharply curtail residential development in several school districts in the county. (File Photo)

Howard County Executive Calvin Ball had backed a measure enacted last year that could sharply curtail residential development in several school districts in the county. (File Photo)

Howard County Executive Calvin Ball’s administration is warning that a measure he backed as a councilman to lower the threshold for halting real estate development due to school enrollment could slash the county’s net revenues by $152 million over the next two decades.

Changes to the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance enacted last year will cost the county $63 million in net revenues during the next six years alone, according to a report examining the fiscal impact of new development in Howard County.

Authors of the analysis, which was compiled by Urban Analytics Inc., University of Baltimore Jacob France Institute, and Artemel & Associates Inc., said during a conference call on Tuesday they while they anticipate revenues declining they don’t believe expenditures will outpace revenue as a result.

“(The report) doesn’t say the county’s losing money,” said Dean D. Bellas, president of Urban Analytics.

County officials, however, did express concern about the loss of income and the increasing cost of services.

The analysis notes that a new rental apartment generates a net operating fiscal surplus for the county of $941 for each new unit, $4,133 per condo and $5,047 per detached single family home.

Concerns about revenue loss arrive as Howard County tackles several thorny issues, including a $140.5 million dollar effort to protect Ellicott City from flooding and a potentially contentious round of school rezoning — all while grappling with one of the fastest-growing populations in Maryland.

A bipartisan group of elected officials, including Ball, supported the 2018 amendments to the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance that reduced the capacity rates for individual elementary, middle and high schools.

Ball was one of three lead sponsors of the amendments, which passed the Howard County Council 3-2. Then-County Executive Allan H. Kittleman signed the measure into law in early 2018.

The county now projects that the capacity rates would close off new residential building in 18 elementary school districts, six middle schools districts and five high school districts by 2022-2023.

Under the amended ordinance, an elementary school district is considered open for development only if enrollment falls below 105% of the “program capacity of the school.” Middle school districts are open for building when they’re below 110%, and new building is permitted in high school districts with less than 115% capacity.

The 29 school districts would meet or exceed those caps, thus being foreclosed to residential development.

The issue arises at a time of rapid growth in the county. Between April 2010 and July 2018, Howard County’s population grew by nearly 13%, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates. Of Maryland’s major metropolitan jurisdictions the county led the way in terms of population increase by percentage.

The emergence of Howard County, particularly Columbia, as a cybersecurity hub and efforts to help employers retain younger talent by replicating a more urban lifestyle in the community’s downtown continue attracting new residents.

The county’s public schools rank among the best in Maryland, adding to the region’s appeal. Howard County Public Schools posted a high school graduation rate of nearly 92 percent in 2018. By comparison Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties delivered graduation rates of roughly 89%, and Montgomery County reported a graduation rate of 88.35%.

Howard County schools are set to begin a boundary review for all 74 comprehensive school districts starting in the 2020-2021 school year. Changing school boundaries can affect local property values and child-care schedules and often angers residents who had bought homes to be close to certain schools.

Redistricting also provides the county an opportunity to offset revenue losses in the fiscal impact study. Projections in the analysis are based on new development allowed in current school districts. Jeff Bronow, research chief for the Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning, said reshaping school districts holds potential to offset some expected revenue losses.

“If school district changes, and capacity opens up, more of the county will be open to new development,” Bronow said.


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