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Hearing slated for next week on excise tax

March 09, 2005|by TAMELA BAKER

tammyb@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS - If at first you don't succeed...

The Washington County Delegation to the Maryland General Assembly will take yet another look today at a proposal to revise the county's building excise tax, according to Delegation Chairman Christopher B. Shank.

The Washington County Growth Management Act of 2005, which would change the excise tax for new development from a square-footage calculation to a flat fee, is scheduled for hearing a week from today in the House Ways and Means Committee.

Since the Washington County Commissioners first approached the delegation about changing the tax, it has morphed from a simple request to raise the limit on the fees charged per square foot for new development to a new flat-fee structure, with a formula for letting municipalities within the county keep some of the money from the tax for growth-related projects within their jurisdictions, to a combination flat fee of up to $13,000 for residential development and a square-footage assessment of up to $5 per square foot for commercial development.

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Shank said municipalities, particularly the City of Hagerstown, cautioned that while the latest draft of the bill addresses fees collected from residential development within the municipalities, it says nothing about whether they can keep money from commercial development.

Leaving out commercial development "was an oversight; it wasn't a policy decision," Shank said.

Additionally, the municipalities were concerned about including libraries in the formula for their share of the tax, he said. At present, the bill dictates that municipalities must use their portion of the excise tax for roads, libraries, parks and recreation, public safety and agricultural preservation. Because municipalities don't usually pay for libraries, they had asked that part of the county's portion of the tax be dedicated to library projects, Shank said.

Another issue stirring controversy concerns a proposal by Washington County Commissioner William Wivell to assess a surcharge on subdivisions with more than 25 residential units. Shank said the Maryland State Builders Association worried that the surcharge might be "precedent-setting," and contended that the county already has the ability to charge higher fees for those developments.

The delegation's decisions to include requirements that the county set up a school construction advisory committee and commit a minimum of $1.8 million per year for agricultural land preservation might also come up for discussion again, Shank said.

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