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Allegheny top county taxpayer

November 11, 2002|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

For the 14th consecutive year, the name Potomac Edison Co. appears at the top of the list of taxpayers in Washington County.

The utility- now known as Allegheny Energy but still listed in tax records as Potomac Edison - paid nearly $2.7 million in county real estate and personal property taxes for the fiscal year that began July 1, 2001, and ended June 30, 2002, according to the Washington County Treasurer's Office.

"That's not surprising," Allegheny Energy spokesman Guy Fletcher said of the company's placement atop the taxpayer list. "Obviously, we have a large amount of real estate for corporate reasons."

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Land listed under Potomac Edison includes Allegheny Energy's headquarters off Downsville Pike, the nearby 450-acre Friendship Technology Park and the Williamsport Service Center, Washington County Treasurer Todd Hershey said.

The Top 10 tax list was compiled using real estate and personal property taxes in Washington County and, when applicable, Hagerstown.

The utility's taxes were $167,916 less than the $2.8 million Potomac Edison paid the previous fiscal year, according to the treasurer's office. Those amounts include only properties listed under Potomac Edison, which is now called Allegheny Energy.

Allegheny's real estate assessment rose $60,514 to $3,733,724 this past fiscal year, but the real estate tax decreased from $87,055 to $35,396, according to the treasurer's office.

The utility's personal property taxes also decreased from $2,838,751 to $2,670,836. The personal property or equipment was assessed at $111,200,000, compared to $116,105,330 the previous year.

The taxes may have decreased for two reasons.

First, some of Potomac Edison's land was transferred during the last fiscal year to Allegheny Energy's energy trading subsidiary, Allegheny Energy Supply Co., records state.

Second, since fiscal year 2000 the state has gradually been phasing in an exemption for personal property used to generate electricity, Fletcher said. State lawmakers approved the exemption in 1999 to balance the playing field for Maryland electrical utilities competing with out-of-state utilities after deregulation took effect, he said.

Allegheny Energy employed 306 people in Washington County as of Nov. 4, Fletcher said.

Each year the city and county treasurers' offices prepare a list of the top taxpayers based on total assessments. The lists are not complete because they do not include local families with large land holdings that are listed under different names and corporations.

It also doesn't take into account the total tax for companies with properties listed under multiple names.

For example, Wal-Mart Stores ranked ninth with $469,184 in taxes. That does not include properties listed under Wal-Mart Realty such as the old Wal-Mart on Wesel Boulevard. Wal-Mart Stores includes the Wal-Mart in the Centre at Hagerstown, Sam's Club and property on Elliott Place, according to tax records.

Only four of the Top 10 taxpayers are in Hagerstown city limits and pay city taxes as well. They are Wal-Mart Stores, Verizon, DDRC PDK Hagerstown LCC (Centre at Hagerstown) and Columbia Gas. DDRC PDK Hagerstown LCC sold the shopping center to Washington Real Estate Investment Trust in June.

While Citicorp leases property north of Hagerstown, it pays the real estate and personal property taxes, making it the third largest taxpayer, Citicorp spokesman Phil Kelly said.

The 10th largest taxpayer, TruServ, is closing its $40 million distribution center on Hunters Green Parkway in the first quarter of 2003, spokeswoman Shelley Hughes said.

The company announced the closure last year and has been laying off employees gradually.

TruServ has 79 employees compared with 295 workers in January 2002, Hughes said.

The city compiles a Top 10 taxpayer list to determine how much of the tax base those companies are responsible for, City Finance Director Al Martin said.

Last fiscal year, the city's Top 10 was responsible for 13.8 percent of those taxes, Martin said.

"That's not bad," he said.

If the top 10 taxpayers were responsible for more than 20 percent to 25 percent, that would make the city too dependent on a small number of taxpayers, he said.

In the last fiscal year, county real estate tax rate for all county property owners, private and commercial, was 94.8 cents for each $100 of assessed value, Hershey said. Property is assessed at 100 percent of its market value.

The county also collects the real estate tax for the state, but those revenues were not included in the Top 10 list. The state real estate tax rate is 8.4 cents per $100 of assessed value, Hershey said.

The city's real estate tax rate was 73.2 cents for each $100 of assessed value, Hagerstown Treasurer Stephen Wolfensberger said.

Personal property taxes are charged to incorporated and unincorporated businesses for furniture, fixtures and equipment used in operating the business.

The county rate was $2.37 per $100 of assessed value and Hagerstown's rate was $1.83 per $100 of assessed value, officials said.

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