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Allegheny Power tops county taxpayers

March 07, 1999|By BRENDAN KIRBY

The top 10 taxpayers in Washington County contributed more than 12 percent of the county's property tax revenue this year, according to a list compiled by the Washington County Treasurer's Office.

The list illustrates the new economy in the region, with emphasis on large service companies as opposed to manufacturing giants.

Mack Trucks fell out of the top 10 to 13th place, down from 10th last year.

The truck manufacturer, which makes heavy-duty engines at its Pennsylvania Avenue plant, ranked second in 1990. This year, its assessed value was $7.99 million.

Its personal property assessment - the value of furniture, fixtures and equipment - fell from nearly $1.3 million in 1997-1998 to just more than $1 million this year, Washington County Treasurer Todd L. Hershey said.

Hershey said that made a difference of about $4,000 on Mack's tax bill. But he said the drop from 10th to 13th on the list is not so much due to its decreasing value.

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"It's just that the others got bigger," he said.

Those companies included newcomers Bowman Group LLP and Antietam Cable Vision.

The top 10 list is based on the real estate and personal property taxes paid to Washington County government in the 1998-1999 fiscal year.

Allegheny Power, formerly Potomac Edison, and Bell Atlantic again topped the list. Taxes from both companies came mostly from personal property - utility lines, transformers and other equipment, Hershey said.

Manufacturing equipment is not taxed, Hershey said.

Allegheny Power had the largest tax bill, $2.7 million. Bell Atlantic was second at $1.7 million.

The assessments come from tax forms all businesses must file by Jan. 1. Companies must report the cost of all personal property at the time it was purchased and the date it was purchased.

The Maryland State Department of Assessment and Taxation reviews the tax forms and applies a formula to account for depreciation, said Ed Muth, administrator of the department's personal property division.

For most items, the state applies a 10 percent depreciation each year, although the figure is 30 percent of computer equipment, Muth said.

Companies that pay their taxes within 30 days of the date they are issued receive a 1 percent discount, Hershey said.

The top 10 list provides a snapshot of the wealthiest property owners in the county but does not include owners who own many different properties under different names, Hershey said.

"This is not a totally scientific report," he said.

Antietam Cable was the 10th-highest taxpayer in 1998-1999, with a tax bill of $218,442.

V. Gene Hager, the cable company's president, said he increase is due to new equipment purchased last year.

In addition to laying about 250 miles of fiber optic cables, Hager said, all of the electronics equipment in Antietam's plant was upgraded last year.

Hager said the improvements are necessary to offer advanced telecommunications services, such as high-speed Internet.

The Bowman Group, which had a real estate assessment of more than $11.6 million, paid $224,397 in taxes to the county.

Hershey said Bowman built a new storage facility on 65 acres off of Hopewell Road, which dramatically increased the value of the land.

The tax bill on that property without the building was $19,585 in 1997-1998. With the building, Bowman paid $49,575 for a half a year.

Citicorp Credit Services, Staples of Maryland and Columbia Gas of Maryland, were third, fourth and fifth on the list.

Staples' gross tax bill was $546,821. However, the company received an 80 percent tax credit because it built in an enterprise zone, a benefit the county offers to promote new jobs.

Tax credits decline by 10 percent each year for 10 years, Hershey said.

Crown American, which bought Valley Mall, was in sixth place on the list, and AT&T Communications ranked seventh.

AT&T's bill, $280,629, is an estimate because the county has not yet received the assessment from the state.

Muth said state officials still are reviewing the company's tax return.

G.P. Hagerstown Limited, which is First Data Merchant Services, was eighth on the list.

Phoenix Color, which came in fifth last year with a tax bill of $422,719, was not on the list this year. But that assessment was artificially high because the company had not yet filed its return when the list was compiled.

Muth said state officials double a firm's personal property tax when it does not file a tax return.

Phoenix Color's assessment was later adjusted.

"The basic idea is to get their attention," Muth said. "It's mainly designed to wake them up."

Hershey said the county eventually was paid $20,000.

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