Harford fee may raise cost of new home

Assessment of $1,637 to $8,269 considered to build, renovate schools

December 26, 2004|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

If things go as planned, the cost of a new single-family home in Harford County could increase by more than $8,000 next summer.

Buyers of less expensive townhouses can expect to dish out an additional $5,720, and those purchasing multifamily or mobile homes should be prepared to pay an additional $1,637.

The additional costs stem from impact fees that the County Council is expected to apply to the purchase of new homes to help pay for construction of schools and for renovations.

The fee estimates come from Tischler & Associates, a Bethesda-based consultant company hired by the county to study the effect of the fee. The company presented its findings to the council last week.

The General Assembly, responding to the council's request for new revenue sources, gave the county the authority to impose an impact fee during the legislative session that ended in April.

County Executive James M. Harkins said the administration expects to send a bill to the council next month or in early February.

The so-called Tischler study set what the company believes are the maximum fees the county could justify placing on new homes. It is up to the administration and the County Council to set the final fee schedule. The fee would be paid by homebuilders and the cost passed on to homebuyers.

There is still confusion among members of the council, the administration and the chairman of the county's legislative delegation over how much the fees will raise. Estimates range from $6 million to more than $12 million a year.

At the conclusion of a recent council meeting, Council President Robert S. Wagner asked Nancy Giorno, deputy county attorney, for her estimate. She did some quick math in her head and estimated that revenue could total $12.5 million.

"That's not my figure," said John Scotten Jr., the county treasurer, who was standing nearby. "I'm not there. My conservative estimate is $6 million."

"Five, 6 or 7 million dollars," said Wagner. "That's probably being realistic."

Del. Barry Glassman, chairman of the Harford County legislative delegation, put the figure at $11.5 million.

Harkins said it was too soon to estimate the revenue.

Despite the confusion, Wagner said it would not be enough to pay for school construction and renovations. He and other members of the council have repeatedly asked the delegation to seek several revenue-raising options, including the authority to raise the transfer tax from 1 percent to 1.5 percent.

Glassman said he and the other members of the delegation want the council to implement the impact fee before it considers any other revenue sources.

Parents complain

In its efforts to raise revenue, the council was responding to angry parents who complained last year about schools that had 20 percent - in some cases, more than 25 percent - more students then they were designed to handle.

They said such crowding jeopardized the safety of their children and was not conducive to learning.

The parents also complained about leaking roofs and classrooms that were too hot in the summer and too cold in winter, and others with mold growing on the walls.

Council members were briefed this month on the Tischler report.

The report put the maximum fee that could be charged for a new single-family home at $8,269. It was based on the average size of a family in such a home and the economic impact on the public school system.

Christopher V. Cullinan, a consultant with Tischler, said the fee would not be imposed on housing for the elderly.

Councilman Robert G. Cassilly expressed his concern that the fee would lead to increased building of homes for the elderly while reducing the availability of homes to buyers with children.

`Too complicated'

Councilman Dion F. Guthrie said the impact fee was "too complicated" and that it would have been better if the General Assembly had given the council the authority to raise the transfer tax.

"We know [the increase in transfer tax] would have raised $6 million a year," Guthrie said. "And it would have been more fair. Under the impact fee, someone with no kids might have to pay $8,000 when they buy a new home. At the same time, a husband and wife with four kids can move in a previously owned home and pay nothing.

"This bill is going to keep the attorneys busy," he said. "It's going to be an attorney's smorgasbord."

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