The missing piece of the White Flint Sector Plan, unanimously approved by the Montgomery County Council on March 23, is how to pay for it. In a compromise with the County Executive, the Council agreed to move the rest of the Plan forward while the Executive noodles a consultant’s report on how to finance the needed infrastructure (roads, etc.).
Earlier this spring, observers were surprised that the Executive’s office had moved forward from its earlier blanket opposition to the White Flint financing plan. Everybody else was pretty well set on a development district; during the Council’s consideration of the Plan, even formal amendments referred to the development district. The development district was a compromise accepted by everyone, even the developers who agreed to tax themselves to pay for needed infrastructure. In advance of getting approval for their projects, just to jumpstart the streets and other infrastructure that everyone knows will be needed.
But the Executive proposed a variety of possible financing mechanisms, some quite arcane. And the Executive never came out and said that one mechanism was preferable, only that there were lots of options.
Executive officials meet County Council on financing options Feb. 23
It’s been over a month since Council approval, and almost twice that since the Executive last voiced an opinion on the available options. And the Executive Office Building has been silent.
Rumors abound that the County’s fiscal crisis has resurrected the Executive’s earlier position that “flexibility” requires that all money raised in White Flint be sent elsewhere in the County. “Otherwise we’d be putting money into a wealthy area when there are greater needs elsewhere,” one Executive official told the Council. “It’s a fairness issue.”
But the Council recognized that “flexibility” actually meant nobody would get any money from White Flint. What investor would tax themselves for White Flint, in advance, if the needed infrastructure to support the development was being starved to support some other part of the County?
Frankly, that raises an awful specter: the one thing that would kill the White Flint Plan is fear that the County would renege on its commitments. That fear raised its ugly head several times during consideration of the Plan, including when the Transportation Management Districts (which help move people out of their cars) lost their funding, even though their funding was the reason we have parking meters in Bethesda and White Flint. It’s dedicated to traffic management, but the Executive needed it elsewhere and just took it.
So this isn’t an idle fear. Especially if the same thinking is holding up the White Flint financing proposal.