From John P. Mallamo:
On October 16th 2012 the County Council held a public hearing on the James Run TIF legislation. It was interesting and enlightening. One of the speakers provided a historical perspective. Used to be infrastructure construction was a cost to developers and the County issued permits and provided engineering quality control. Infrastructure costs are not a burden to developers but the developers with forked tongue now plea they are. Infrastructure costs are what they have always been, a cost of doing business. Any comparisons to a burden are nothing more than a red herring. Quite interesting to now hear how such a horrible burden has been placed on the developer. I guess if you complain loudly enough someone will eventually hear you. That someone should not be the County Council. Here comes the big shift, the speaker thought that residents of Harford County should now pay for the roads water and sewer in new developments. The speaker did not give any rationale, except to state that it was a burden on developers. Such an irrational shift is solely to enhance the developers profit. If developer profit margins cannot meet an adequate return on investment it is without conscience for developers to misdirect the viability of a business plan under the erroneous assumption that they cannot afford the cost of infrastructure.
Another interesting discussion was between the Director of the Office of Economic Development and a member of the Council. The discussion surrounded the topic of road improvements on routes 543, 136 and 7. This discussion was detailed, but not very factual.
To start there will not be 22 million dollars of road improvements. Improvements to roads, other than the entrance and exit to the property, is only 1.6 million dollars plus some portion of the 4.6 million dollars in soft costs that cannot be further broken out. Seems like a significant portion of the soft costs might be paid to the speaker who discussed the burden of infrastructure costs. No doubt he has his own best interest at heart and not the interest of the taxpayers.
A direct comparison between the James Run TIF road improvements and the Beechtree TIF road improvements shows duplication and overlap. Indeed, some of the improvements appear quite similar and the description of one, an improvement to the intersection of Route 7 and Stepney Road, is the same. Hard to tell whether these are necessary improvements, or improvements to get the initial improvements right. If the County assumed their responsibilities for quality control instead of being a participant in forcing development these types of overlap would not be happening.
Another interesting discussion involved the apparent lack of any known plans by the State Highway Administration or the County to improve any of roads in and around the project. When asked by a member of the County Council whether he was aware of any plans by the State Highway Administration or the County to improve these roads the Director of the Office of Economic Development said no he was not. The answer to the question was truthful, but was unfortunately not factual. It is unfortunate that the Director of the Office of Economic Development can endorse road and infrastructure improvements when he is unaware of what the left hand may be doing.
In June 2008, the State Highway Administration completed the Traffic and Intersection Improvement Studies for Base Realignment and Closure. The area of concern was Aberdeen Proving Ground. This study considered the intersections in and around the James Run project quite extensively. None of these improvements has yet been initiated by the State Highway Administration. In December 2010, the County Executive identified priorities for road improvements to support BRAC to the State highway Administration, none of the roads in and around the James Run project were identified. Why wouldn’t the County Executive propose necessary changes to the roads in and around the James Run project or the State Highway Administration initiate the changes they identified if traffic is that bad? Simply because neither party has the authority to do so.
I-95 and the interchanges on it fall under the purview of the Maryland Transportation Authority, an independent agency, with wide ranging authority and responsibility. The Maryland Transportation Authority has initiated and is completing the I-95 section 200 study. The area of concern includes the I-95 and Routes 152, 24, 543 and 22 interchanges.
Did the Director of the Office of Economic Development answer the question truthfully? Yes. Was it a factual answer? No. Is the State Highway Administration improving the roads that the County Executive identified in 2010? Slowly. Is the Maryland Transportation Authority improving the interchanges identified in the Section 200 study? Slowly. Is the money provided in the TIFs sufficient to make real improvements? Not really. The interchange improvements at 543 is estimated to cost between 30 and 40 million dollars. Will 1.6 million dollars make a difference? No. More likely that the money for improvements will be put into an account waiting for the Maryland Transportation Authority to start construction. Makes no sense to spend any without having the complete details of any plan from the proper authority?
What will residents of Harford County get with the TIF? An apartment complex and a shopping mall. Not much, if any, of the property tax revenue projected. The misfortune of Sandy will provide more construction jobs, for a longer term, than the blue sky projections for James Run. Not such a great bargain for the jewel of the Atlantic Seaboard. Harford County deserves better.