ANNAPOLIS – Prince George’s County legislators, desperate for school construction money, are backing a measure to double a special fee assessed on new homes in the county.
The lawmakers want to boost the fee from $2,500 to $5,000 per new house, an amount that could boost the price of homes in the county, builders say.
County lawmakers spent nearly an hour debating the bill at a delegation meeting Friday. Much of the talk centered on amendments to the original bill, which increased the fee but didn’t require builders to prove whether new homes would overcrowd an area.
One amendment lowered the special fee from $7,000 to $5,000 but subjected builders to a facility test, which makes them determine how many cars and children a new home will bring to an area. The county denies building permits that could cause overcrowding.
When the debate ended, the Prince George’s delegation approved a bill that subjects builders to the facility test and requires a $5,000 per-home fee. The fee would drop to $4,000 after four years and $2,500 after eight years.
The fee increase would bring in millions to help pay for 26 badly needed schools, lawmakers said. But it and the facility test could delay or prevent development projects. The bill awaits action by the House Commerce and Government Matters Committee.
At Friday’s delegation meeting the debate escalated into a shouting match between bill opponents and those who wanted to vote and move on.
Delegate Joseph F. Vallario, D-Prince George’s, said he didn’t get enough time to look at amendments to the bill and wanted the matter delayed until next week.
But Delegation Chairman Rushern L. Baker said they had been working on the bill for two months and refused to delay action because the schools so desperately need money.
“This is the biggest bill of the year,” Vallario declared. “This is very unusual,” he said.
Baker responded, raising his voice: “I’ve had everybody but Jesus down here looking at this bill…. We’ve been dealing with this from the very beginning.”
Delegate John A. Giannetti Jr., D-Prince George’s, was not happy with the decision.
“What we are seeing here is a travesty, an absolute travesty” Giannetti said. “We are rushing to fast forward and we are doing a sloppy job.”
Builders oppose the bill because they say it makes buyers of new homes responsible for building schools. They argue old homes are bought and sold all the time, which also crowd neighborhoods, but only the buyers of new homes pay extra fees.
“It will result in a higher cost to the homeowner in one way or another,” said Hamer Campbell, director of government affairs for Maryland National Capital Building Industry Association. “It will make it much more difficult to build. It will raise costs for the home buyer.”