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3/26/24 Testimony for County Council Work Session on APFO Bill (31-24)

We commend the thorough work of the APFO Task Force.  This is, of course, just further proof of how many talented residents we have who are willing to serve our County. 

As you may know, I am here on behalf of We The People - Baltimore County.  I am also here having previously served as a Baltimore County Board of Education member.  Let me say that while we agree with the goal of this bill to provide adequate facilities, we believe this bill needs amendments. 

On a positive note, we agree that it makes sense to push back the timing of the "per pupil yield factor," and that the adjacency rule has had unintended consequences that should be addressed, if they can be legally.

However, as advocates of housing for all, we would like to discuss the risk that exists here.  It is well documented across the nation that APFO laws can have an unintended consequence of their own -- and that is to create barriers to entry for new residents, exacerbate our housing crisis, and inhibit if not reduce our tax base.

Indeed, the Howard County Economic Development Authority released a study of its APFO law, which is similar to what is being proposed here, and concluded that its law will depress taxable "resident incomes" by $733 million by 2025, and depress economic activity by almost $2 billion by 2025 (amounting to nearly 7,000 fewer residential units).  Keep in mind that Howard County is not even half our size, so those impacts can be quite meaningful here, unless we are mindful about our approach.

To that end, and focused on solutions (as Councilman Marks ably said), we recommend three items for consideration based on the principle -- as others have said -- that "a well-constructed APFO pairs phased development with impact fees and capital improvement plans for expanded and improved facilities to accommodate growth."

  1. Phased development is where we start.  We believe that a better way of approaching the development hold period of 5 years, is to use a shorter period that can be expanded to 4 years (consistent with Howard County) if the government takes material steps to address impacted infrastructure by year 2 or 3.

  2. Impact fees -- we have to get serious about impact fees.  We did not collect any in FY 2023 and FY 2021 because of exemptions.  The County Executive's office proposed using an excise tax instead to limit the use of such exemptions, but his bill was not successful.  We should revisit this approach.

  3. Capital improvement plans -- we believe that APFO should be directly tied to the County's capital budgeting process, and should compel capital decisions in a way it does not right now.  The intergovernmental committee proposed by this bill is a good step, but it should be supported through more specific budgeting requirements.  And in this regard, we will need to track not just new developments, but also housing turnover, which is not necessarily captured by APFO.  

Ultimately, as you have heard us say, we believe the County is at a crossroads.  We do believe that APFO can be a progressive force for good.  Instead of being used as a tool to prevent growth, it should be used as a planning tool -- a true planning tool -- to facilitate the creation of the right infrastructure and supports.  It cannot be schools or housing.  It has to be both -- good, welcoming schools and good, proper growth.

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