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Delegates wary of transfer tax

November 17, 2000

Delegates wary of transfer tax



By LAURA ERNDE / Staff Writer


The Washington County Commissioners' request for a new transfer tax got a cool reception from state lawmakers Friday.

The county wants to add a 1 percent tax on the purchase of a home or business. The estimated $1.2 million per year raised would be used for school renovation, agricultural land preservation and urban redevelopment.

All are worthy causes, lawmakers said, but they aren't sold on the need for the tax, which would have to be approved by the Maryland General Assembly.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, vocally opposed the tax during the two-hour meeting between the Delegation and the County Commissioners.

Earlier this year the Delegation increased the hotel tax to raise $300,000 a year for economic development projects such as a minor league baseball stadium.

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"I know, obviously, the stadium is the 800-pound gorilla," Shank said.

"The other 800-pound gorilla is public education," said Commissioner John L. Schnebly.

The County Commissioners have not yet taken a vote on a plan to tear down the 69-year-old Municipal Stadium and rebuild a new one for $15 million.

But even if the County Commissioners decide not to fund the stadium, the hotel tax revenues don't address the county's needs, said Commissioner Bert L. Iseminger.

For example, the county has turned down state money for purchasing development rights of farms because there was no county match, he said.

Lawmakers said after Friday's meeting at the Frostburg University Center in downtown Hagerstown they weren't yet willing to take a position on the transfer tax.

"We need to take a very close look at that. I'm not at this point prepared to support any new tax," said Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington.

Delegation Chairman Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, said the biggest challenge to the transfer tax will be getting the approval of the delegation's eight members. After that, it would be smooth sailing through the Maryland General Assembly, which meets from January through April.

The county transfer tax is opposed by the Pen-Mar Regional Association of Realtors, said President-elect Roger Fairbourn. The tax would add $1,100 to the closing costs on the purchase of a $110,000 home, he said.

The state already imposes a .5 percent transfer tax.

Recognizing that Maryland's closing costs were among the highest in the country, the legislature last year lowered them by requiring home buyers to put six months of property taxes in escrow instead of one year, he said.

In addition to the transfer tax, the County Commissioners asked lawmakers for an increase in the marriage license fee from $60 to $75 to boost funding for domestic violence programs.

Citizens Assisting and Sheltering the Abused Inc. would get $65 per license under the increase.

McKee suggested a divorce filing fee in lieu of a marriage license fee.

"They're the people who are going to use the service," he said.

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