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Power supplier falls from first among taxpayers

November 30, 2003|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

For the first time in at least 15 years, Potomac Edison Company was not the top taxpayer in Washington County last fiscal year.

Verizon-Maryland topped the electric company as the top taxpayer by paying $2,487,610 in personal property tax to Hagerstown and Washington County, according to the city and county treasurers. Verizon paid almost $2.4 million in taxes the previous fiscal year.

Potomac Edison - known as Allegheny Energy Inc., but still listed in tax records as Potomac Edison - paid $2,141,936 in county real estate and personal property taxes for the fiscal year that began July 1, 2002, and ended June 30, 2003, according to the county treasurer's office. Potomac Edison's taxes decreased $528,900 from $2,670,836 during the 2001-2002 fiscal year.

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None of the tax paid by Verizon was for real estate.

In recent years, some companies have had certain real estate switched from being taxed as real estate to being taxed as personal property because it houses equipment such as a transformer, Washington County Treasurer Todd Hershey said.

Hershey and Hagerstown Treasurer Stephen Wolfensberger said they could not say for certain what Verizon was taxed for because the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation does not reveal those specifics anymore.

Typically, personal property taxes includes office equipment and computers, Hershey and Wolfensberger said. That category also can cover transformers and perhaps transmission lines, they said.

For Verizon, personal property tax includes office equipment, computers, transmission lines and remote terminals, spokeswoman Sandra Arnette said.

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

Each year, the city and county treasurer's offices prepare separate lists of their 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.

The lists also do not take into account the total tax for all companies with properties listed under multiple names.

For example, Wal-Mart has property listed under several names in the county and city. The discount chain giant did not make the top 10 this year because none of the different company names alone had enough taxes.

Listed under various names, Wal-Mart was taxed at least $820,212 in real estate and personal property taxes in the city and county. Those taxes include a $15,329 tax credit from the county and a $80,490 tax break from the city.

The tax amounts in the top 10 taxpayer list include tax credit amounts. Three of the top 10 taxpayers received tax credits.

Enterprise tax zone credits of $251,574 and $271,587 were granted to Staples and Tru Serv, according to the county treasurer's office.

Washington Real Estate, which owns the Centre at Hagerstown except for the Wal-Mart Supercenter, received a $214,321 tax break from Hagerstown, Wolfensberger said.

The tax break, which Wal-Mart also receives for the Garland Groh Boulevard store, was granted as part of a deal that resulted in the shopping center's location being annexed into the city, Wolfensberger said.

Remaining at number three was Citicorp, which paid $649,060 in real estate and personal property taxes to the county.

Citicorp leases the property north of Hagerstown, but pays the real estate and personal property taxes, Citicorp spokesman Phil Kelly said. Among other operations, the complex houses the call center for credit card customers.

In December 2002, 254 Hagerstown LLC bought the property from Bank State Street & Trust Company for $64.4 million, according to the state assessments office.

Breaking into the top 10 taxpayer list this past fiscal year was Bowman Group with $377,019 in county taxes. Most of that, $361,079, was real estate tax.

Upon hearing Bowman Group made the top 10, Managing Partner Donald Bowman joked, "I can think of a lot of worst lists that we can be on." Bowman and his son, Todd, own the group, which is the parent company for D.M. Bowman Trucking, Bowman Sales & Equipment, Bowman Fuel & Food, and Bowman Development.

Bowman said some of the properties are listed under names other than Bowman Group.

The property listed under Bowman Group includes the GST AutoLeather cutting plant on Governor Lane Boulevard and some houses on East Oak Ridge Drive near the corner of Sharpsburg Pike that Bowman wants to tear down and replace with a retail shopping center.

Tru Serv 1998 Trust remained in the 10th spot, despite the TruServ distribution center closing earlier this year. After the fiscal year ended, the property was sold to New Boston Fund in July for $26.5 million, according to the state assessments office.

Crown American, ranked eighth, merged into the Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust on Nov. 20 so now the trust owns Valley Mall.

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