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Washington County preparing 'wish list' for local lawmakers

September 26, 2000

Washington County preparing 'wish list' for local lawmakers



By SCOTT BUTKI / Staff Writer


The Washington County Commissioners Tuesday began discussing 16 possible legislation requests, including authority for a transfer tax and lifting of a mandate to pay off the water and sewer debt.

The County Commissioners are scheduled to discuss some of the proposed requests with the local delegation to the Maryland General Assembly during a joint meeting Friday.

The commissioners said they were not ready to vote on the requests, noting they had not seen the list of proposals before Tuesday's meeting.

"Either this discussion is late or the meeting Friday is premature," Commissioner William J. Wivell said.

The commissioners quickly eliminated from the list a proposal to seek state authority to impose a fire tax.

That tax should be used only as a last resort, Commissioners John L. Schnebly and Bert L. Iseminger said.

The commissioners discussed seeking state authority to impose a county transfer tax, which would piggyback onto the state transfer tax. The county considered seeking permission to impose the tax this year but realized it didn't have the needed state authority, County Attorney Richard Douglas said.

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The transfer tax would have required people to pay 1 percent of the total value of real property transactions. This would be in addition to a 1/2 percent transfer tax imposed by the state government.

A 1-cent transfer tax could raise $1.2 million annually, Planning Director Robert Arch said. More than half that money could help pay for school construction costs, Iseminger said.

One of the more controversial requests was to seek removal of a mandate to pay off annually some of the $52.3 million water and sewer debt.

The mandate requiring the county to spend $500,000 annually in general fund contributions on water, sewer and pretreatment debt was passed during the last legislative session.

The county has subsidized the Water and Sewer Department by $14.05 million, including more than $2 million this year, since it took over the Washington County Sanitary District in 1994.

The wisdom of removing the debt mandate has been questioned by Commissioner William J. Wivell and Del. Christopher Shank.

Wivell said he disagrees with the argument by County Administrator Rodney Shoop that the mandate limits the county's financial future and can hinder county efforts to improve the county's bond rating.

The county's debt and the subsidies are the problem, not the mandate to pay down the debt, Wivell said. This bill hasn't been in effect for a full year and should be given more time to produce results, he said.

If Wivell is correct and the law would not affect the bond rating then the mandate should remain as is, Iseminger said.

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said if the County Commissioners are not unanimous in their support of that request, he does not want to take it to the state.

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