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Excise tax revision OK'd

April 12, 2005|by TAMELA BAKER

tammyb@herald-mail.com

ANNAPOLIS - The fate of legislation to revise the building excise tax that Washington County charges for new development went down to the wire Monday, the final day of this year's regular session of the Maryland General Assembly.

All's well that ends well, however. The bill won approval in the Senate shortly after 9 p.m.

Approved by the House, the bill received minor amendments in the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee last week before being sent for a vote by the full Senate. Though the bill was scheduled for a preliminary vote Saturday, the vote was never taken. By the end of the Senate's first session Monday, the bill still hadn't been called for a vote, prompting a flurry of phone calls by the Washington County Delegation to try to get a fix on why the bill hadn't been called.

Monday's tangle was the last in a long and complicated struggle to get a revision approved. The Washington County Commissioners asked the Delegation in December to sponsor legislation to change the tax, but their original request was to raise the cap on the square-footage calculation on which the tax was based.

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Since then, the bill has been revised several times. In its final form, the Washington County Growth Management Act of 2005 changes the square-footage calculation on residential development to a flat fee of up to $13,000 per unit. In residential developments with 25 units or more, the county may charge up to $26,000 per unit.

For commercial development, the bill raises the cap on the excise tax to $5 per square foot of new development.

In the closing weeks of the General Assembly, an attempt was made by Annapolis lobbyist Gerrard Evans, representing Zenith Construction of Hagerstown, to find a sponsor to amend the bill to exclude all development that had won even preliminary approval from Washington County officials before Jan. 1.

Local delegates fought off that amendment in the House Ways and Means Committee, but when the Senate failed to vote on the bill as scheduled, county lawmakers feared a last-minute effort had been made to kill the bill.

But Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller finally called the bill in a late-afternoon session, and final passage came during the Senate's evening deliberations.

The House approved the Senate's amendments at 11:56 p.m.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, said he'd been working to get the bill through for several hours. He said he didn't know why it had been delayed.

Miller had a little fun with Munson before the preliminary vote, telling him "that Washington County growth bill got lost somewhere between the House and the Senate and it may not come up until next year."

And just before the final vote Monday night, Miller quipped that dawdling Senators could still cause the bill to fail.

"I hope we can pass that Washington County bill. I'm not sure we've got enough people here for a quorum," he said.

The other senators had a little fun with Munson too, pushing their "red" buttons to vote against the bill before switching to their "green" buttons to vote for it.

In the end, the only senator to vote against the measure was Alex Mooney, R-Washington/Frederick, who is known for voting against taxes of any kind.

Money raised from the excise tax is to be used for capital projects driven by new development in the county, such as school and road construction. Some of the money will be earmarked for projects of the Washington County Free Library, and some will be set aside for public safety and for parks and recreation.

Municipalities that have passed Adequate Public Facilities Ordinances will be permitted to keep a portion of the fees collected inside the towns for capital projects within their jurisdictions.

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