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Tax plan draws no opposition

March 23, 2000|By LAURA ERNDE

ANNAPOLIS - Lawmakers heard no opposition Thursday about Washington County lawmakers' plans to hike the hotel tax and change tip jar gambling regulations.

Combined, the two bills would raise $500,000 a year to reduce the county's water and sewer debt and at least $300,000 a year for economic development.

A third bill, which creates the county's debt reduction fund, will likely pass the House of Delegates today or Friday.

All three must pass the House of Delegates by Monday to have a chance of passing the Maryland General Assembly this session, which ends April 10.

Delegation Chairman Del.Bob McKee, R-Washington, testified Thursday before two legislative committees.

The county legislative delegation wants to double the hotel tax to 6 percent, McKee told fellow members of the Ways and Means Committee.

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The tax would raise about $250,000 for the water and sewer debt and $300,000 for economic development and tourism.

The Washington County Commissioners have pledged some of the tourism money to a minor league baseball stadium.

The law also requires the Maryland Stadium Authority to complete a study before any of the hotel tax money can be spent on construction.

Changes to the tip jar gambling law will raise $250,000 for the $52 million debt.

Lawmakers are proposing a change in the distribution formula for tip jar gambling profits.

Right now, charities get 60 percent and the Washington County Fire and Rescue Association gets 40 percent.

By splitting the money evenly and giving the fire and rescue association an extra $250,000, the County Commissioners can divert an equal amount to debt reduction.

Although the fire and rescue association had expressed opposition, no one testified against the proposal Wednesday at a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee.

McKee proposed another change to the tip jar law on Wednesday - eliminating the $1 per jar fee that fire and rescue association members pay. The fee raises $6,744 a year for the Gaming Fund.

Another proposed change to the gambling law would allow bars to keep half of the tip jar profits. The current law, which McKee said has caused administrative headaches, allows them to keep $45 a jar or 50 percent, whichever is less.

Del. Anthony O'Donnell, a member of the Judiciary Committee, asked if the taverns would then be able to keep as much as $125 per jar.

"This strikes me as being almost a 200 percent increase," said O'Donnell, R-Calvert/St. Mary's.

McKee said he would have to research the answer.

The changes to the gaming law would be reviewed by the Washington County Delegation every six months and expire in 2003, McKee said.

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