Delegation agrees to tax bill change

March 23, 2005|by TAMELA BAKER

ANNAPOLIS - In the ongoing discussion of what should - and should not - be included in legislation to revise the excise tax Washington County charges for new development, local lawmakers are ready to make a concession to county officials over a required study of the impact of property assessments on the county's revenues.

A requirement that county officials complete the study before the county could begin collecting the revised excise tax will be dropped, according to Christopher B. Shank, chairman of the Washington County Delegation to the Maryland General Assembly.

The county still will have to do the study and report to the delegation by Nov. 1, Shank said.

Delegation members agreed to the change because of "a commitment from the city (of Hagerstown) and the county to conduct a thorough report by Nov. 1 on issues we were concerned about," Shank said.


The delegation initially proposed a separate bill that would set up a commission to study rising property assessments in the county, and particularly how those assessments are affecting senior citizens and the supply of affordable housing. That bill had not been withdrawn as of Tuesday.

Shank said county officials convinced him they could not do a comprehensive study of property assessments in time to begin collecting the revised tax on July 1, when the new fiscal year begins. They feared they would lose potential revenues if they had to wait until the study was complete.

While allowing the county to start collecting the tax in July, this latest amendment to the excise tax bill moves up the deadline for the assessment study to be finished. The previous deadline was Dec. 31. Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington, said the amendment should be ready for the House Ways and Means Committee today.

The Washington County Commissioners requested the excise tax revision because development has expanded faster than anticipated when the original tax was approved two years ago. The money will be used for road and school construction as well as other growth-related projects.

"Clearly, we need to do something to give them some tools for the schools and the roads," Shank said.

The purpose of the assessment study is to give delegation members a picture of how the county is spending the taxes the General Assembly approves. Even so, Del. LeRoy E. Myers, R-Washington/Allegany, said he thought the county should be able to begin collecting the taxes right away.

"They're the ones who have to decide whether they're doing the right things," he said. "We just want some justification for doing so."

Shank said he might also ask the county to investigate Charles County's excise tax rules, which allows new homeowners to add the excise tax to their regular property taxes, amortizing the excise tax over 10 years rather than paying the full charge up front. In addition to giving homebuyers more time to pay, adding the charges to their property taxes would also offer them tax advantages, Shank noted.

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