Responding to new budget constraints, Prince George's County officials are studying the legalities of a cost analysis system that would, in part, give priority to housing developers who promise to build certain amenities in their subdivisions, such as schools, parks and recreational facilities.
The county is looking for ways to offset the impact of "Trim" - the Proposition 13-like tax measure approved by voters in 1978 - that has frozen revenues from property taxes at the level collected last fall, $140 million.
Since then, county officials have been trying to find ways to continue providing community services with 1978-based revenues while costs of those services continue to escalate.
Now, says County Executive Lawrence J. Hogan, "We want the (county's) Office of Law to tell us what we can and can't do legally."
Kenneth Duncan, chief administrative officer for Prince George's, said he has asked for legal advice on assessing the revenue impact of new housing subdivision.
The request was made in light of recent court cases filed in states such as California and New Jersey, where similar growth management plans have been contested.
In contrast, to its neighbor, Montgomery County, Prince George's believes that it has too much low-income housing. Hogan would like to encourage the building of more expensive homes.
"We're not trying to discourage development," Hogan said. "We want to expedite it," he says. "It's not a no-growth philosophy. We encourage high-income housing, high rises, condominiums and economic development.
"But we're also trying to find the right incentives to build the kind of housing we want in this county."
According to Hogan, there is no attempt now to cut back on housing. During the past three to four years, about 2,500 to 3,000 housing construction permits have been authorized. There are currently 25,000 homes being built.
But now, because of the lid on property tax levels, officials are attempting to stretch the services it must provide to new developments by managing the county's growth.
Hogan said, "Some of the questions we are asking are: "What can we as a county do to spread available services? Can we legally give preferential treatment to housing developments? And what policy options are available services? Can we legally give preferenial treatment to housing developments? And what policy options are available to assess projects?"
"What we're doing is looking at the issue of affordable growth," said Duncan.He said he expects the legal recommendations to be made before a new county water and sewer plan is decided in September.