The prospect of a population increase used to be greeted with enthusiasm in the metropolitan counties, aka the suburbs. But the reaction was pretty much the opposite when state planners went public this week with the prediction that school enrollment would increase more than 18 percent in the next decade. Throughout the metropolitan counties there is consternation: How will local governments manage to pay for expansion of current programs, let alone build new schools?
In Howard County, where the projected increase is close to 50 percent, the Bobo administration has proposed adequate-facilities legislation to help deal with what might otherwise be a crisis. Under the plan, developers who want to build new residential or business projects would have to donate land for schools if their development pushes existing schools beyond capacity, or build and fix roads if their project causes traffic congestion.
The development community is not too fond of the idea, of course. But the Economic Forum and the Coalition of Community Associations were right, nonetheless, in protesting an early council vote on the bill. The road design and school capacity manuals, which are the basis for determining what can be built and where, were not released by the administration until the day before the hearing, giving community groups insufficient time to study the proposal. The administration has now delayed the council vote and scheduled another hearing. That said, its political gaffe should not be construed as a measure of the bill's merit; the concept of offsetting costs that ordinarily would financed by property tax money is eminently sound, particularly with school enrollment expected to swell unmanageably. The APF bill is no panacea, to be sure. But in a sluggish economy struggling with growth control, it's the next best thing.