FNP Spotlight: Recapping MIOC’s Inception

June 26th, 2014 No Comments
(Released March 2014)

A recent story and editorial in the Frederick News-Post helped focus attention on an effort by residents of Lake Linganore to consider whether or not to incorporate into a town. An ad hoc committee was appointed by the LLA Board in 2009 to examine the impacts, both positive and negative, of incorporating the Lake Linganore community. While studying the questions pertaining to this idea the committee has presented reports at each of the HOA annual meetings since 2010, given verbal reports at LLA Board of Director’s meetings, and published several written reports in LakeTalk, the official newsletter of the HOA sent to residents and owners. Additionally, the committee publishes information on the LLA web site and has conducted 4 workshops to date calling for additional residents to join us as we work on this effort.

The process of incorporating a community into a municipality is a hard and difficult process, as attested by the fact that the last one in MD was in the mid-90s and encompassed a tiny area in a neighboring county. We chose to do this, even though we knew it was going to be hard, because of the potential benefits to the community which we will describe later.

At our workshops and annual meetings we garnered over 90 questions from residents and crafted answers to them all, posted on our Facebook page and on the Lake Linganore Association webpage. You’ll find many other documents [we’ve assembled several notebooks, 4 or more inches each] posted on these pages too. We’ve held meetings with the Maryland Municipal League and engaged some of their former staff members for legal advice.
We’ve examined the budgets of each of the incorporated towns and cities in the County, also poring over the charters of each as well to understand what’s expected and possible of a town here in Frederick County. Our HOA performs almost all of the same functions these towns do, and in terms of numbers of residents, the LLA is home to far more people than most of the towns in Frederick County.

Seeking to get an expert financial examination of our findings, we engaged recently-retired Assistant County Manager Mike Gastley to give us a warts-and-all report on the question of becoming a town. Mike served many years as the County’s Budget Officer and we believe his findings to be a solid foundation on which to rest our case. He knows the functions of municipal governance as well as their associated costs. It should be noted that several of the residents currently involved in the ad hoc Municipal Incorporation Organizing Committee (MIOC) were initially skeptical of, or even opposed to the idea of incorporation. As the investigation progressed, the potential benefits became obvious. Above all, we want to get this right, and welcome any additional data that can be brought into consideration.

While there are those who want things to stay just as they are, we think that our community can be more. Judging from the results of the LLA’s Strategic Planning Committee survey (see the LLA webpage for more on the results) conducted last year with over 1,000 respondents, many of the residents agree. Change can be hard. We’d bet that even many of our neighbors who expressed reservations to incorporating, whether in person, on our Facebook page, or in the pages of the Frederick News Post would want the lake to be dredged, better roads and parking, a community center or other amenities. All of these things cost money, of course, and this past winter has shown that the current levels of funding for snow removal and abatement efforts could be inadequate if we are hit with back-to-back hard winters.
Yes, as is so often the case, in the end it comes down to money. Ultimately, there would be approximately $1.1 million dollars (NOT $11 million as noted in the editorial) that would be returned to us if we become a town. Mr. Gastley confirmed this number – approximately $900,000 in tax money we already pay would be returned directly to the new town, coupled with another $200,000 reimbursement for services rendered by the town on behalf of the County. And this is money that the community could have been receiving for at least the last 5 years, or ever since we’ve reached the level of several thousand homes (2,800 by some County offices sources; 3,200 by others). From that perspective, we’ve LEFT $1,000,000 dollars on the table each year for at least the last 5 years. A million here and a million there and pretty soon you are talking real money, to paraphrase an old Congressman.

The guiding principle adopted by the MIOC was that if the end result of incorporation would increase the total cost to the average homeowner in HoA dues and taxes over the amount they currently pay in LLA dues, then the incorporation effort would cease. Accordingly, the central point of our effort has been to identify the costs and benefits, and grind these numbers to find out what it means for the average owner. We currently pay about 34 cents per $100 in assessed value in HOA fees. Our examination shows that this HOA rate would drop for the average home to about 17 cents per $100 and the remainder would become the municipal tax rate of about 17 cents per $100. Mike Gastley has confirmed this calculation. One side benefit of this redistribution of resident payments is that roughly half of the total outlay would then become tax deductible.

While the functions the town would perform would be specified in a charter yet to be written, keeping these functions at about the same level as they are today would result in an increase of $1.1 million in funds devoted to our community. While there would be some additional costs, such as a town planner to address state requirements for planning and zoning and perhaps some other administrative positions, these costs would be more than offset by the reimbursements noted above. Field monitoring of development activity, conducted now by a 2-man team covering the entire County and all its other activity, would now be conducted by our own, dedicated employees working to standards we set. Regarding the town charter, our plan is to take the best of the charters of those towns of a similar size and character, avoiding the pitfalls that other towns may have discovered, and incorporate suggestions from our residents in order to provide the best possible framework for self-governing our community.

The results of our research have shown that incorporation could greatly benefit Lake Linganore and its residents. We stand by our statements and will be happy to meet with residents, editorial boards and others to share our findings. We believe residents should make this decision and to that end we are following the process laid out in state law for a vote by all registered voters within the boundary limits of the proposed town. As such, it should be noted that this effort pre-dated the initiative by Kelly Schulz to simplify this process, and that it will proceed on its own merits regardless of the results of her efforts in Annapolis but we truly appreciate her efforts and if her bill is successful it will greatly reduce the cost of the referendum vote on Incorporation Although it will require the approval of politicians at the state and county level, ours is not a political effort. We have Democrats, Republicans and Independents working on this, our civic effort. While some may want to shout this effort down, we will continue to maintain a dialogue with all interested parties, and will leave it to our residents to make the ultimate decision. A decision that we trust will be made on a basis of the facts.

Lastly, there has been a quite a hubbub over the name of the proposed town at Lake Linganore. But what’s in a name? For example, where do the Orioles play their home games? Almost no one uses the formal name of the Orioles’ home – “Orioles Park at Camden Yards”. After much discussion with legal sources and with the Frederick County Board of Elections, it turns out that the best way to move forward is to use the legal name associated with our original Planned Unit Development. The founders or this area called it Lake Linganore at Eaglehead and it is appropriate to honor our history with that formal name. Just like people refer to “Camden Yards”, or perhaps “Oriole Park”, folks will continue to refer to our community as “Lake Linganore”, because it’s simple, easy, and comfortable.

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