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Transfer tax killed

February 08, 2001|By LAURA ERNDE

Transfer tax killed



ANNAPOLIS - The debate over a proposed transfer tax for Washington County that was rejected by state lawmakers Wednesday has ignited some hard feelings between state and local elected officials.

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The local delegation to the Maryland General Assembly on Wednesday formally rejected the Washington County Commissioners' request for a 1 percent tax on real estate transactions.

The unanimous vote came as little surprise. Local lawmakers had been critical of the transfer tax proposal since it was suggested last fall.

What irked some commissioners was Del. Christopher B. Shank's suggestion that the county instead pursue impact fees on new development.

"Impact fees make sense. People who are coming to this county need to pay their fair share," argued Shank, R-Washington.

But the commissioners, who learned of Shank's proposal at about 4 p.m. Tuesday, were exasperated that lawmakers wanted a response that day.

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Commissioner Paul Swartz called the attempt to switch tax proposals "a chicken thing to do."

Besides, they said, impact fees won't solve their budget problems.

Washington County has had the power to impose impact fees on developers since 1990, but the commissioners have said there are too many restrictions and not enough growth to make it worthwhile.

Impact fees can't be used to pay for school consolidation, but a transfer tax could, said Commissioner John L. Schnebly.

"If and when we need a change in language, we will ask for it," Commissioner Bert L. Iseminger said.

Delegation Chairman Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, suggested lawmakers go ahead and simplify the law on impact fees in case the commissioners decide to use it at a future date.

"We're not trying to pass judgment or dictate to the County Commissioners," McKee said.

"We need to give them the tools for when the growth does arrive," Shank said.

Del. Louise V. Snodgrass, R-Frederick/Washington, said she wished the commissioners had been available to discuss alternatives to the transfer tax, and took them to task for not communicating better.

"As far as I'm concerned, if the county can't communicate, they get nothing. That's not good government," she said.

The commissioners have a standing invitation to Wednesday morning delegation meetings, McKee said, but they will get a special invitation for the next meeting on Valentine's Day.

The county plans to attend that meeting, which will include a discussion of various revenue sources for education, County Administrator Rodney Shoop said.

As a group, the commissioners go down to meet with the delegations once or twice a year, he said.

"We go as the need arises," Shoop said.

Del. Joseph R. Bartlett, R-Frederick/Washington, said the county might get some help with school construction when the state revamps its school funding formula.

"There is some light at the end of the tunnel," Bartlett said.

Staff writer Scott Butki contributed to this story.

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