Growth plan under fire Rehrmann says initiative would mean higher taxes, lost jobs

November vote set

Supporters say Harford executive's claims are inflated

September 10, 1998|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann took aim yesterday at a tough anti-growth initiative on the Nov. 3 ballot -- the only such effort in the Baltimore area this year -- claiming it would produce a suburban nightmare of higher taxes, lower revenues and lost jobs.

Rehrmann warned that the proposed limits on development would cost Harford County $53 million in tax revenues in the first three years, triple water and sewer bills, force a 34-cent property tax increase, require up to $55 million more in school spending and frighten away new business.

"These are conservative numbers -- the impact is probably higher," said Rehrmann, outlining for the first time the fiscal impact of the charter amendment, which she has opposed.

And she speculated that many of the 13,000 residents who signed petitions to put Question "C" on the ballot might have decided differently if they had known the potential costs.

But leaders of Friends of Harford, the citizens group that spearheaded the petition campaign, warned that her estimates are predictable and inflated. They said the cost of doing nothing about growth could be even higher.

"What is it going to cost us if we continue building like we are? That's the one thing they don't talk about," said Robert D. Dillon, treasurer of the group, whose members had not seen the specifics of Rehrmann's estimates yesterday.

The proposed charter amendment has been hotly debated in fast-growing Harford County this election season, splitting residents and elected officials alike.

It would put a one-year moratorium on residential or commercial development, curb development in areas where schools are near capacity and set stricter limits on building in areas where services and facilities are under pressure.

Rehrmann -- while warning of unspecified legal problems with the initiative -- argued yesterday that it is unnecessary and counterproductive in a county that already has begun taking steps to control development.

"We passed the first adequate-facilities ordinance in the area, but it doesn't happen overnight," she said, adding that county school enrollments are expected to rise by 300 to 500 students this year in the 35,000-student system.

In addition to its costs to taxpayers, the initiative also would hurt agricultural land preservation efforts, she said, because money to purchase development rights comes from real estate transfer taxes, which would decline.

And she warned that the initiative could force development into the rural areas of Jarrettsville, Dublin and Darlington because they are the only places uncongested enough not to trigger the growth restrictions.

Rehrmann's opposition to the charter amendment is shared by at least three of the five candidates vying for the county executive's seat, which Rehrmann is leaving after serving her two-term limit.

Former state Sen. Arthur H. Helton, a Democratic candidate, said he would control growth by tightening the adequate public facilities law and changing zoning regulations and density allowances.

"I believe there are other ways of going about controlling and managing growth in Harford," he said.

State Sen. David R. Craig, one of the Republican candidates, said he had to endure similar -- if smaller -- growth restrictions as mayor of Havre de Grace from 1985 to 1989 because of a lack of sewer capacity.

Craig said he would rather see a better master plan than one drawn up "by developers and politicians." He also would separate the Board of Appeals from the County Council and limit political fund raising by county officials during comprehensive rezoning periods.

A spokesman for Del. James M. Harkins, another Republican candidate for county executive, said Harkins also opposes the amendment.

"It would be detrimental and counterproductive for the goals that the Friends of Harford have," said Jim Richardson, campaign manager for Harkins.

Backers of the amendment, meanwhile, were undeterred by the criticism.

David P. Miller, unofficial spokesman for Friends of Harford, said Rehrmann's charges are designed to kill the initiative.

Miller said the initiative would not put a halt to all construction. For example, the one-year moratorium wouldn't affect industrial development, additions or alterations to existing homes, and would not block sales and transfer tax revenues from existing homes.

Pub Date: 9/10/98

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