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Transfer tax draws fire

December 16, 2000

Transfer tax draws fire



By SCOTT BUTKI / Staff Writer


A dozen Washington County residents addressed a transfer tax, private schools, animal control and a new stadium Saturday during a public hearing for citizens conducted by the Washington County's delegation to the Maryland General Assembly.

There were about 35 people in the audience for the two-hour hearing, which is held annually. The speakers commented on more than a dozen topics.

Delegation Chairman Del. Bob McKee, R-Washington, requested comments on a proposed real estate transfer tax. Two residents and a delegate responded.

The Washington County Commissioners are asking the delegation for state authority to add a 1 percent tax to the purchase of a home or business. The tax would be in addition to the half-percent transfer tax already charged by the state.

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The county would use the money to renovate schools and preserve farmland. Seventeen of Maryland's 23 counties impose a local transfer tax.

The proposal has been met with opposition from Realtors because it would increase closing costs for home buyers.

Roger Fairbourn of Pen-Mar Regional Association of Realtors spoke against the tax. He said a transfer tax is a poor way to raise income because that revenue source will dry up when the economy gets bad or when the tax hurts the housing market.

In fiscal year 1999 the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation reported the median home price in Washington County was $110,000, he said. With a 1 percent increase in the transfer tax, county residents would have to pay an average of $1,100 extra for closing costs, he said.

It is odd, he said, that the county is trying to raise the closing costs while the state assembly, with two past laws, is trying to lower them.

Del. Joe Bartlett, R-Washington/Frederick, agreed with Fairbourn. It makes no sense for state and county governments to move in different directions on this issue, he said. He opposes almost all tax increases.

Joe Swope, representing the state Sierra Club, said the group supports the transfer tax because it would help schools and farmland preservation. Anyone who opposes the tax is opposing farmland preservation and paying for school construction work, he said.

Bartlett disagreed. Instead of raising a tax to help farmland preservation, he suggested helping make farming into a more viable industry.

Swope, speaking later for himself and not as a representative of the Sierra Club, also criticized the idea of using tax dollars for private schools.

Gov. Parris Glendening, who put $6 million in this year's budget to buy textbooks for private schools, is expected to ask for slightly more in next year's budget.

That topic was also raised by Herbert Hardin, who said he was speaking as a citizen, not as a Washington County Board of Education member.

"I have a great concern," he said of the issue. State money should go to the "have-nots," the families of children in public education, not the "haves," he said.

If public schools had received the money given instead to private and parochial schools, the county could have purchased new science textbooks for all students, at a cost of $50 to $60 per book, he said.

He also challenged the delegates to ensure the county gets its fair share of state education money this year.

Angie Harsh and Marie Wampler spoke against a Washington County Commissioners' request for enabling authority to impose criminal penalties by making any violation of the Animal Control Ordinance into a misdemeanor.

There is no need to turn animal owners into criminals, Harsh said.

Alfred Boyer, speaking as a citizen and not as a member of the stadium task force or the Hagerstown City Council, explained the present status of the stadium project.

While he said the proposal is "on hold," he believes there is a solution to the stalemate and he intends to find it.

Although he is disappointed with the status, he said he believes improvements in the neighborhood near the Hagerstown Municipal Stadium are essential.

Lawmakers also take comment from the public throughout the 90-day session through letters, phone calls and visits to Annapolis. After Jan. 10, the Washington County delegation can be reached at 1-800-492-7122, ext. 3447.

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