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Commissioner backs off his transfer tax position

November 26, 2000

Commissioner backs off his transfer tax position



By SCOTT BUTKI / Staff Writer


Washington County Commissioner Bert Iseminger has backed off plans to ask local delegation members to tell the county by Dec. 1 whether they would support a county request for state legislation enabling the county to impose a transfer tax.

On Tuesday, Iseminger wanted an answer by Dec. 1 because that's the deadline to file this year's county request for participation in the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Program. He wants to use transfer tax proceeds to pay for the county's program participation.

The commissioners took no action on his request.

On Wednesday, Iseminger said he decided not to call the delegation because asking for a decision that fast is unrealistic.

Commissioners President Greg Snook told Iseminger during Tuesday's meeting he was skeptical the delegation would provide an answer that fast.

The commissioners on Tuesday were scheduled to consider committing $304,000 to the ag land preservation program, using money from the ag transfer tax. Last year the county made a $205,750 commitment, of which $80,570 came from its general fund and the rest from tax proceeds.

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The program is intended to protect farm land from development. Owners are paid not to develop their land.

However, the commissioners delayed action on the issue until next Tuesday's meeting.

The farmland preservation program is a 60-40 match, meaning that for every $40 the county commits, the state donates $60. The county's $304,000 would be matched with $456,000 from the state.

Iseminger suggested the county should instead contribute the maximum amount allowed in the program, about $667,000, so the county can receive about $1 million.

He thinks in future years the county should plan to fund the program with proceeds from a transfer tax, which is different from the ag transfer tax.

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.

The tax would be in addition to a 1/2 percent transfer tax imposed by the state.

But the county does not have authority presently to piggyback on the state's transfer tax. The commissioners have asked the delegation to help them get that state authority. But some delegation members, at a joint meeting of the two bodies last Friday, were unenthusiastic about pushing for the tax authority.

Which is why Iseminger wanted to know by next week whether the delegation will support the tax.

But on Wednesday he said the county should return to the original proposal of about $300,000, funding with ag tax proceeds.

Otherwise, as Commissioner Bill Wivell pointed out, it would be too risky to plan on getting funds from a tax for which the county doesn't yet have state authority, Iseminger said.

Iseminger pointed out an irony - presently the funding comes from the ag transfer tax, which is imposed on people selling Ag land for other purposes. If the tax fund level is low, that's good news in that it means few are selling agricultural land yet bad news when it comes to providing funding for the program.

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