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Some fees for builders could grow, others go

December 15, 2004|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Developers in Washington County could soon pay a higher excise tax on new construction, but other building fees would be dissolved under a proposal by the County Commissioners.

The commissioners on Tuesday said they plan to ask the state for the authority to roll the county's building fees into the excise tax, reducing the number of fees developers pay - such as the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO) fees for schools and roads - in addition to the current excise tax.

It's possible the excise tax would then become a flat fee of about $15,000 charged to new construction, depending on how many fees are rolled into the tax.

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The plan also would increase money for school construction projects, because the excise tax is charged countywide, Commissioner James F. Kercheval has said.

The APFO fees can only be charged to areas within the county's jurisdiction, not in municipalities, unless the municipalities adopt such fees.

Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell said the commissioners recently approved the APFO fees, and that they should stick with that.

"It makes us look like we don't know what we want," Wivell said.

The commissioners agreed through consensus Tuesday to ask that the Washington County Delegation to the Maryland General Assembly back legislation that would lift the cap on the excise tax, allowing them to move forward with their proposal.

The excise tax currently is charged to new construction on a per-square-foot basis.

The commissioners said they plan to discuss the rate structure of the revamped excise tax, should the proposal be approved.

Four of the five commissioners said they supported the proposal, but Wivell questioned the need for such a move.

Wivell said he thought the APFO fee for schools would generate enough money for schools if the county's municipalities adopt something similar.

Kercheval said the commissioners had to approve the APFO fee for schools because their ability to impose an impact fee was taken away by the state last year.

He said the county had to do something in order to make up for the state decreasing its share of education funding.

Wivell said he didn't think that by increasing building fees, that the county should send the message that it's "OK for the state to not increase school funding."

"No, Bill, I think we're just trying to deal with reality ..." Commissioner Doris J. Nipps said.

The APFO fee for schools, approved last year, is charged to developers who build in areas where schools are at 85 percent capacity. The commissioners approved a $7,355 per unit fee, but earlier this month they increased that to $8,500 per unit.

Wivell said after the meeting that if the excise tax became a flat fee, the commissioners would have to go to the delegation whenever they wanted to change it.

The commissioners, however, can change the APFO fee themselves, he said.

"We just got it implemented, and we're changing it already," Wivell said.

The commissioners, City of Hagerstown officials and the local delegation plan to meet Thursday at 11 a.m. at the County Administration Building, room 225, 100 W. Washington St. to discuss their legislative requests for the upcoming General Assembly session.

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