Culleton: Housing must be in check despite school numbers

Culleton on Carroll

September 08, 2012|By John Culleton

It's a common refrain, and sometimes uttered for various reasons: We need to continue to control residential growth in Carroll County.

My reason? New residences attract growing families — and growing families burden our school system.

It is stated in the press, and even in the school system, that our school population is shrinking. That may be, countywide, but in my view the situation would have more gravity if I did not see portable classrooms still parked at most of the schools in the southern part of Carroll County.

In any case our schools, as measured by standard tests, have fallen to fourth or fifth in the state, depending on which article you consult. And in a nation where we have sunk to 32nd place among major nations in such critical skills as math or science, a sinking state ranking is not acceptable.

We have the wealth and the well-prepared student base to rank first in the state.

The bottom line, for me, is that we need to limit residential growth by any legal means — and at the same time boost the county's job-creation abilities to fuel the school system we want and need.

The new state regulations on septic tanks are one avenue for restricting that growth. Unfortunately, the current Board of Commissioners is planning to change the definitions of minor and major subdivisions to allow more septic tank-based developments. This is the wrong tactic.

More residential development will put more pressure on our school system and other public services, and new houses won't bring in enough taxes to cover the additional expense.

On Oakland Mills Road, within a 1-mile stretch, five houses were recently up for sale. These homeowners don't need competition from new developments which will depress the values of their properties.

I count two current commissioners who, I believe, are looking out for development interests. The remaining three must hang together and vote to limit residential growth when possible, while encouraging industrial growth and preservation. (Don't forget — agriculture is industry, too.)

The methods by which residential growth could be limited include impact fees; zoning changes that discourage, rather than encourage, septic tank development; and even building code requirements — including perhaps some for solar or wind power for new houses.

And while we look at residential growth, the effort to bring new industry and corporate campuses to Carroll County needs to be increased.

How much time and effort has the Board of County Commissioners exerted to increase industrial development? Have they gone in person to major trade shows? Have they visited local manufacturing plants to offer incentives for expansion and job creation here in Carroll?

In my mind, it's not enough. A few well meaning local merchants on an advisory board is not an answer.

Look at the industry bases that are found in neighboring Frederick, Baltimore and Montgomery counties. How did they attract that industry? Go thou, and do likewise.

Again, the major function of local government is education — it's half the budget. New homes attract growing families, but those houses do not pay enough in taxes to cover the additional expense they impose on the school system. That increases the tax load on the rest of us, and the scramble reduces the quality of education for all students.

I know the school system is reviewing options to close, consolidate or otherwise trim its facility operations.

But I firmly believe the current decline in school population is a temporary phenomenon — attributable to the burst of the housing bubble.

I would guess that, pretty soon, school population will be on the increase again, and for the same reasons that saw past spikes. Namely, when people find it within their means to move from congested areas to a more suburban lifestyle, they take it.

Carroll County needs to get ahead of that increase and slow it down.

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