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From the desk of
Town Commissioner Chris Staiger

(12/1) Ambrose Bierce, in the Devil's Dictionary, defines politics as "a strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles." On that note, let me say that all the opinions below are my own…

Frederick County Commissioners recently voted 4-0 (with Commissioner Jenkins absent) to require municipalities' compliance to County Adequate Public Facilities provisions on school capacity prior to allowing additional residential growth within those municipalities. For the moment then, additional residential growth in the municipalities cannot take place if that growth is projected to drive school enrollments above 100 percent of their county rated capacity.

Emmitsburg Elementary School's June 30, 2009 county rated capacity is 85% while Thurmont Middle (79%) and Catoctin High (82%) are also well below the mandated threshold. The debate seemed to paint the municipalities as pockets of irresponsibility due to their failure to adopt APFO requirements or the inconsistency of standards when they did. However, Commissioner Jenkins, the only County board member to oppose the initial recommendation, did state that "the five most egregious schools… (are) not being fed by municipalities" (as reported in the Nov 12 Frederick News-Post).

And, of course, the eight hundred pound gorilla in the room was the on-going battle between the County Board of Commissioners and Frederick City officials over municipal annexation and development north of the city. Past "consultation" between the two bodies, as well as a referendum effort, failed to yield the annexation reversal desired by county officials. So it seems obvious that we are caught up in a 'down county' battle over resources and residential development. This may explain why the change was made to apply retroactively to "recently annexed" properties. In addition, County commissioners were required to determine that without the mandate "there would be significant adverse impact on the public health, safety, and welfare" (as reported 11-19 in the Frederick News Post), even though, if Commissioner Jenkins is to be believed, county government has been its own worst enemy…

Be all this as it may, I'm on the record favoring Emmitsburg's adoption of these County APFO provisions - but by our own choice. My primary concern is that the County's "mandate", if not challenged and overturned, may open the door to an activist County Board interfering in additional areas of traditional, municipal sovereignty by claiming an over-arching interest in some other area of shared resources. This action was inappropriately justified as an effort to save the school system on a county wide basis from abuse by the municipalities, when, in reality, it was meant to be a hammer blow in the ongoing disagreement between the County and Frederick City over growth and development - but it couldn't be justified otherwise. Trying to paint lipstick on a pig is nothing new in politics.

Chris Staiger

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