Zoning Revision Is Vital
I share the hope that rampant growth has finally been brought under control as expressed by Greg Bowen, Calvert County director of planning and zoning, in the April 17 Washington Post Southern Maryland Extra. Indeed, the Dunkirk Area Concerned Citizens Association (DACCA) has advocated strong growth control measures for more than two decades. To have turned the corner by at last controlling growth would be worth celebrating. However, a little perspective and a dose of skepticism are in order.
Calvert's average annual population growth has been a harmful 4.1 percent not for just a few years, not for a decade or so, but since 1960. If the planning and zoning/census figure in the Post story is correct and the growth rate from 2003 to 2004 was 2.8 percent, that's good. But a one-year improvement is not a victory or a trend -- it is a single blip. Let's see if the improvement continues for five or 10 years before celebrating and congratulating each other.
Of course, rapid population growth is more than numbers and percentages. More important, it has to do with quality of life and rural character -- with overcrowded schools, traffic jams, higher taxes and resource depletion. That is why the effort to revise the entire Calvert County Zoning Ordinance is so critically important. The resulting rezoning could solidify the improvements in growth control made by planning and zoning, the county commissioners and the Planning Commission in recent years. On the other hand, if zoning unravels, the plight of the county could become much worse.
The relationship between zoning laws and population growth is complex drudgery. Crafting good laws is vital and hard. DACCA works with a number of groups and seeks partnership with others who share common goals and concerns for the good of Calvert County. DACCA can be reached at PO Box 887, Dunkirk, Md. 20754 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This letter was also sent to the Board of County Commissioners of Charles County by the writer.
Charles County has the highest tax rate in Southern Maryland and ranks seventh in the state. As of Jan. 1, 2005, Charles County's citizens must now pay for ambulance transport because of budget constraints. However, the county commissioners have ensured that $600,000 is available for design services (Tetra Tech contract awarded in July 2004) for a baseball stadium and have committed to another $6 million for that project. Coincidentally, the total amount of the tax revenue increase [from leaving the tax rate at its current level despite the rise in property values] equals the amount of the Tetra Tech contract ($600,000) and the county's share of stadium construction costs of $6 million.
In addition, it is my understanding that the state has refused to commit funds for the Cross County Connector and that the taxpayers of Charles County will be forced to fund the entire cost, which in all likelihood will escalate beyond the estimated $65 million. I question the necessity of this project except that its presence will ensure a total build-out between Waldorf and Bryans Road. There already exists a major "connector" between Waldorf and Accokeek, which also provides access to Bryans Road. Why do the commissioners continue to pursue the Cross County Connector, which will only serve the desires of developers and result in future tax increases?
The proposed 7.7 percent increase in property tax revenue is more than twice the rate of inflation (currently at 3 percent) yet cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security recipients have been less than 3 percent. An increase of 7.7 percent in the tax burden will be especially hard on those living on fixed incomes, such as senior citizens and the disabled.
How are the stadium expenditures (including the $600,000 for the Tetra Tech contract) classified in the budget?
Eliminating the stadium and Cross County Connector would save millions of taxpayers' dollars, thereby negating the "need" for a property tax revenue increase. Have the commissioners even considered cutting these expenditures from the budget? Eliminating these projects would not adversely affect the citizens and would go a long way toward solving any potential budgetary crisis in the future.
Cheryl E. Thomas