The New City of Crofton?

April 27, 1991

In the mid-1960s, residents of the then-isolated Anne Arundel community of Crofton set up a special tax district to pay for extra police. Now, faced with rampant development, Croftonites are looking at the possibility of becoming an incorporated city.

Crofton is not alone. The notion of greater governance at the community level is picking up steam in the wake of explosive growth and financial problems in county governments. In Anne Arundel alone, the number of special tax districts has risen nearly 25 percent since 1985.

In Crofton, a mostly affluent community of over 10,000, the central issue is growth. Rapid residential and commercial development has overburdened existing roads. Building now under way promises to strain schools, sewer systems and other infrastructure. Incorporation would give Crofton some control over its destiny, allowing it to enact and enforce ordinances, control land use and stand in line for state and federal funds. "It's a way for the community to express itself and reach its goals without depending on a higher level of government and competing for funds with other communities," said town manager Jordan Harding.

Local determination has much to recommend it. Community-level governance tends to be more responsive. Locally raised taxes can be applied to narrow and specific priorities. Anne Arundel County has a long history of this, primarily in waterfront communities where residents are willing to pay added taxes to protect shorelines and maintain private roads and other community property.

Now, however, the trend is being driven by quality of life concerns and increasing urbanization of once-sleepy suburban outposts. In the case of incorporation, two major concerns are the impact on the county's tax base and service delivery. The county tax pie typically shrinks when a town incorporates, and there's also the potential for duplicative and overlapping services. Worse is the potential of using local control as a means of excluding certain kinds of development -- and people -- from the community. Already, there is consternation in Crofton over the proliferation of shopping centers and multi-family housing units.

For this reason, it is essential that Crofton move cautiously in this matter. The benefits of incorporation are many, but self-determination should not be a code word for exclusion.

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