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Excise tax bill sails through hearing

March 17, 2005|by TAMELA BAKER

tammyb@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS - Although potential amendments to a bill to revise Washington County's building excise tax triggered a tempest back home, the bill sailed through a House committee hearing Wednesday without so much as a thunderclap.

As chairman of the Washington County Delegation to the General Assembly, Del. Christopher B. Shank presented the bill to the House Ways and Means Committee for review.

Joined by committee members LeRoy E. Myers, R-Washington/Allegany, and Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, Shank explained that the original excise tax legislation approved in 2003, which put a $1 per square foot cap on the tax, did not anticipate the rate of growth the county has experienced since then.

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"We've had a series of meetings with the County Commissioners on this legislation," Shank told the committee. "The board of commissioners is trying to make sure growth pays for itself."

Shank said the current limit on the excise tax prevents the county from raising enough revenue to cover school construction, road projects and other expenses caused by new development. The county's Adequate Public Facility Ordinance, which applies added charges in high-growth areas, "is difficult to apply in municipalities," he said.

The new bill would scrap the square-footage calculation for residential development in favor of a flat tax of up to $13,000 per housing unit. That amount could double in developments with more than 25 units.

The bill also allows municipalities within the county to keep a portion of the tax collected within their jurisdictions for growth-related projects.

While not getting into specifics, Shank said the delegation is "working on some clarifying amendments" to the bill. In its current form, it requires the county to develop a plan for affordable housing. It also requires municipalities to adopt APFO ordinances to be eligible to keep their portion of the tax.

"We did this in 2003, we're doing it in 2005," McKee said, "and if Frederick County keeps coming over the mountain, we'll be back in 2007."

Although the commissioners complained heartily during their Tuesday meeting about the delegation's plan to add further requirements to the bill, nobody attended the hearing to oppose the bill Wednesday.

In fact, the only comment came from Del. Clarence "Tiger" Davis, D-Baltimore City, and it was directed at Myers and McKee for leaving their regular committee seats to sit with Shank at the witness table.

"I thought the two of you were joining him because it takes three Republicans to ask for a tax," Davis quipped.

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