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How come citizens can see the errors in Hocotian economics while many decision makers can’t?

Hocotian economics (origin HoCounty) defined as purported economic justifications out of step with current realities; purely designed to benefit the few at the expense of the many. An already out dated economic argument put forward, stated as gospel, to justify additional expenditures or increased development. Synonyms: total hogwash, self-serving drivel, a whopper

Disclaimer: I’m admittedly no scholar on economic theory but I founded and directed a Buyers Cooperative with annual sales of over $1million and was previously a member of the Howard County Chamber of Commerce. I’ve also been known to suffer from common sense.

As we plunge into a new County budget cycle, I can’t help but reflect on the constant barrage of past, present, and future projects in which bizarre Hocotian economic justifications play a big—and expensive role.

Example 1: How come Kimco maintains the addition of 260 apartments are essential for the Hickory Ridge Village Center to be sustainable? With more competition from Downtown Columbia Kimco purports that “adding mixed units and high-end apartments will give their retailers a captive market.” CAPTIVE??? Get real! Where is the hard evidence that the new apartment residents will faithfully shop at the Giant while high-end specialty markets like Whole Foods, Wegman’s, and Sprouts, and money-saving venues like BJs and Costco abound? Hasn’t Kimco heard of online ordering for grocery delivery services, or meal prep services like Hello Fresh or Blue Apron? Besides, isn’t there an expectation that Howard County families eat out several nights a week? No sir, the Planning Board shouldn’t buy the Hocotian argument that the massive, incompatible new design proposed is the Village Center’s only lifeline–any more than I buy that the 35 unit Bozzuto development proposed will assure an economic turn around for the Savage Mill. Disclaimer: I haven’t returned to the HRVC since the day Bella Luna closed. IMO, if Kimco hadn’t insisted on such an objectionably huge number of apartments, they’d probably be halfway through their renovation! 

Example 2: Seemingly limitless expansion of The Arts as an economic engine. Affluent, well-educated people can never have too much Art!  Or maybe they can…..According to the Sunday Baltimore Sun front page article, “Art no longer a huge draw: steadily thinning crowds are problem both locally and nationally.” Ooops, how much $$$$$ have we obligated for the Arts in the Crescent/Downtown Columbia and the revitalized Long Reach Village Center?  With high definition virtual museum tours, the ability to print 3D copies, and home theatres– why fight traffic for non-existent parking?  Disclaimer: While I lack artistic talent and the money to be a true patron, I proudly raised a fine arts major who chose to be gainfully employed as a graphic designer/marketing specialist.
Also in The Sunday Sun is the report on the collapse of the roof at Merriweather Post Pavilion. Work to raise it was already underway. Can Howard County really afford this $55 million renovation project with a swimming pool for performers when $$$ is so desperately needed for additional schools?  How come the MPP projected revenue figures never subtract the cost of police security and traffic management or EMS and hospital services?…or the sound volume monitors that are ignored?

Example 3:  How come a 20% pay raise for the county executive and council members is recommended in part “because of the high cost of living here?” Won’t continually raising salaries and other governmental expenses assure the high cost of living only gets higher? Disclaimer: I do think a county executive should make more than his employees. But perhaps we should look to lower the salaries of the other positions during turn-over? There is no shortage of persons seeking to be ‘our elected public servants’, nor is there a shortage of’ professionals eager to have their resume include having worked for Howard County. Indeed Council members have experienced increased workloads resulting from population growth. But isn’t that why each got an additional staff member last year to decrease that workload? What did that and an additional auditor for the Council Council add to last year’s budget? And why should we concern ourselves about what other jurisdictions are paying their elected officials? How come HoCo never looks at what other jurisdictions are charging?

Example 4: Citizens concerned with the adequate public facilities ordinance (APFO) did just that! They discovered HoCo developers are charged a mere fraction toward adequate schools, roads, etc. compared to our neighbors. Allowing developers to buy their way out of waiting until classrooms are available is Hocotian Economics at its worst! Paying two or three times the ‘normal’ rate in order to proceed with development when that ‘normal’ rate was so incredibly inadequate still doesn’t meet what developers are paying in surrounding counties, and will only further exacerbate our school overcrowding issues.  A Council Public Hearing will be held this Tuesday, January 16th beginning at 6 p.m. A large turnout is needed to convince the council to maintain the improvements voted on in November– even if it means slower growth until school facilities can catch up. Citizen should also demand an increase in the ‘normal’ rate developers pay. Citizens should not let Council members be swayed by….

Example 5:  BEWARE! Developers and the Chamber of Commerce representatives will ring their hands on Tuesday night, putting forth the Hocotian economics that affordable housing will be the victim of restricted growth. In reality developers are required to include 15% moderate income housing units in most zones but generally elect to pay a fee-in-lieu (which once again is not sufficient to purchase a housing unit). The current APFO bill exempts from the schools test the additional students generated from those 15% of units. Remember that gift of 100s of additional units to HHughs Downtown…..?  Let’s look for the devil in the details.

There are many, many more examples to discuss another day.  Send me some of your favorite examples, but let’s start by taking action on these.

Think about how over-development negatively effects YOUR family’s economics—and meet me on the high road,

 Susan