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Mayors seek share of revised excise tax

February 03, 2005|by TAMELA BAKER

tammyb@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS - Municipalities within Washington County would have some flexibility in spending portions of the county's building excise tax if revisions to the tax are adopted.

The Washington County Delegation to the General Assembly is crafting the final draft of a bill to revise the tax, changing it from a square-foot charge to a flat fee. The tax would be collected on development throughout the county, including within municipalities.

Delegation Chairman Christopher B. Shank said the mayors of Boonsboro and Smithsburg had asked that the portion collected within municipalities for roads, libraries, public safety and parks be returned to the towns for use there. Hagerstown Mayor William Breichner made a similar request last week.

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As proposed, the county would collect a maximum of $13,000 per single-family dwelling from developers, $9,000 of which would be earmarked for school construction. Another $3,000 would be designated for roads. The rest would be divided between libraries, public safety and parks.

The county would collect a maximum of $15,500 per dwelling unit from multi-family developments, with the money split according to the same percentages.

For nonresidential development, the county would continue to charge by square footage, with the tax rate varying according to the type of industry being developed. The cap per square foot would be $1.

Delegation members agreed Wednesday to allow the municipalities to apply the nonschool portion of the excise tax collected within the towns for their own projects, with two conditions. The first is that the money be used for growth-related capital projects rather than operational needs.

The second is that to be eligible, the municipalities must enact some form of adequate public facilities ordinance.

"We will only exacerbate the problem if we don't help the municipalities see the need for some sort of planning tool," said Del. Richard B. Weldon, R-Washington, Frederick.

Shank said several Washington County municipalities have such ordinances or are considering them.

Washington County Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook, who attended the delegation meeting along with Commissioners Vice President William J. Wivell, said having a public facilities ordinance would make the municipalities consistent with each other and the county.

Although there was some discussion of locking in the amount of money the towns would have to spend on libraries, Del. LeRoy E. Myers, R-Washington/Allegany, said he feared that mandating the library funds could result in "a battle for the dollars."

Wivell suggested giving the municipalities more flexibility, with the only restriction that the money should be used for capital projects.

The delegation also approved Wivell's proposal for an additional surcharge to developers who place more than 35 houses per year in any subdivision.

Wivell warned that the surcharge language "must be very detailed" to prevent developers from getting around it.

Delegation members agreed to give the commissioners broad enabling authority so the commissioners could adjust the language as needed.

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