Citizen shares cautionary tale about poor infrastructure planning and links to municipal bankruptcy

January 10, 2010

Board of County Commissioners of Frederick County, Maryland

My name is Peter Currer and I am a new resident of Maryland and Frederick County.  I live at the new development, Linton at Ballenger Creek.

First I want to congratulate Frederick County in general for having the planning skills and foresight to collect developer fees or a parcel taxes or user fees or whatever you call your fee for new building in Frederick County.  What it means for me is that as this high-density development, about 775 housing units, is being built the County has the funds necessary to build the needed infrastructure for all the new residents.  A new ‘round about has been built at Elmer Derr and Ballenger Creek to ease traffic flow and sidewalks are being installed on Ballenger Creek Pike for the anticipated pedestrian traffic.  Thank you for charging a fee that I, the buyer pay within the purchase price of my home.  I am glad to pay these fees because I am enjoying the services that I purchased.  I am in my 60’s, I am glad to pay now and get the services now, when they are needed instead of waiting until traffic is impossible or dangerous.  Good Planning!

I am here tonight to speak against the proposed changes to the 2010 Comprehensive Plan and to speak against the addition of 17,000 additional housing units in the County.  I appreciate this chance, my first time here, to speak to the County Commissioners but I must say this is not a Planning Process in any sense of the process as I know it from California where I have lived all my life prior to moving here.

I come tonight to tell a cautionary tale to the Commissioners; my personal experiences from living in Vallejo, California for 25years and watching unlimited and unfunded growth.

 

Everyone knows the financial mess that California is in.  But you may not know the story of Vallejo, California which is in the San Francisco Bay area.  I lived in Vallejo and worked for the Vallejo City Unified School District. The City of Vallejo is the largest California City to file for municipal bankruptcy.  The Vallejo City Unified School District is in receivership, taken over by the state, one of the few school districts in California to not be able to meet payroll.

 

There are many reasons for this disaster (and it is a disaster for anyone living in Vallejo or working for the City or the schools) but the one that really sticks out for me is the unlimited and unplanned growth that took place in the 90’s and 2000’s during the boom periods.  Vallejo did not plan well for growth and did not assess development fees to the extent necessary to pay for growth.  It was almost like a Ponzi scheme, each new development paid for the last one.  Then, when the economy crashed real estate values fell and tax income to the City fell and the whole house of cards collapsed.   The EPA came in; the sewer plant was spilling sewage into the bay and required millions of dollars of improvement, money that had to be borrowed.  Then they had to add police and police sub-stations, and then they had to add fire protection and fire stations for them.  None of these expenses were budgeted for, and as the economy went into a bust cycle the city could not pay their costs.  Property values dropped, tax income dropped and the city as well as the school district could not shrink fast enough; bankruptcy followed in 2008.

 

Five miles away is Benicia, a city with controlled (but not no) growth.  They have had stable real estate values, stable tax revenues and stable schools.  They planed well for their growth and the expenses that are associated with growth and have prospered.

And I just read this week that the Watershed Cleanup Plan could cost almost $4 billion dollars for Frederick County’s share.  Will the proposed added housing add to the cost of the Watershed Cleanup for Frederick County? Perhaps finding a way to pay this expense is the job that this Commission should be working on now, not adding more unfunded housing costs to the county.