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House approves hotel tax hike

March 28, 2000|By LAURA ERNDE

ANNAPOLIS - The Maryland House of Delegates agreed Monday to increase Washington County's hotel tax, which would raise money for water and sewer debt reduction and possibly a new minor league baseball stadium.

The House also approved changes to the county's tip jar gambling law that would provide more money for debt reduction.

The two bills now move to the Senate for passage before the session ends April 10.

"It's gone fairly smoothly and I anticipate the same in the Senate," said Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington.

The Washington County Delegation to the Maryland General Assembly is pursuing a three-bill package this session largely aimed at reducing the county's $52 million water and sewer debt.

The House voted 127 to 9 to double the county's hotel tax to 6 percent. Del. Joseph R. Bartlett, R-Frederick/Washington, voted in opposition.

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The House approved changes to the tip jar gambling law, which include cutting the percentage of proceeds to go to charities, by a vote of 136 to 3. Bartlett and Del. Sue Hecht, D-Frederick/Washington, voted in opposition.

If approved by the Senate, the debt reduction package will require the Washington County Commissioners to put an extra $500,000 a year toward the debt.

That would allow the county to give water and sewer customers a one-year reprieve on rate hikes and limit future rate increases to 3 percent a year.

Over 10 years, the debt would be reduced to $19 million.

Without the plan, the debt would be $24 million in 10 years and rate increases would be 2 percent next year and 3.5 percent in future years.

Half of the money would be raised by cutting charities' share of tip jar gambling profits from 60 percent to 50 percent and shifting the difference to the Washington County Fire and Rescue Association. The county could then reduce its contribution to fire and rescue by the same amount.

The other half of the debt reduction fund would come from doubling the hotel tax to 6 percent.

In addition, the tax hike would raise about $300,000 a year for economic development and tourism.

The Maryland Stadium Authority would be required to do a detailed stadium study before the county could spend any of the tax money on a stadium.

The bills passed just hours before a crucial deadline.

"I'd say it was pretty close in timing, but it worked and that's all that matters," said Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington.

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