Excise tax questions answered

June 22, 2005|by ANDREW SCHOTZ


Three weeks before voting on a building excise tax ordinance, the Washington County Commissioners fielded questions on the plan Tuesday.

The ordinance calls for a $13,000 tax on the construction of each single-family home. For a multifamily home, the tax would be $15,500.

Under certain conditions, those taxes double for the 26th home - and all subsequent homes - in a subdivision in one fiscal year.

The taxes are meant to help counterbalance new development on schools, roads, public safety and other government expenses.

A bill allowing Washington County to tax construction with flat taxes, instead of by square footage, passed the Maryland General Assembly during the last session. Gov. Robert Ehrlich signed it into law May 26.


The commissioners might vote on the ordinance and its latest amendments July 12.

At a public hearing Tuesday, Ted Shankle, the executive director of the Hagerstown Housing Authority, was among a handful of people favoring lighter excise taxes on affordable housing.

A section in the ordinance on tax credits defines "workforce housing" as "housing for households with an income that is greater than 50% but does not exceed 120% of the average family median income for households in Washington County as established by the Planning Director."

Shankle said the lower limit should drop to zero.

James Upchurch, the president of Interfaith Housing Alliance Inc., said the ordinance shouldn't impose a higher tax on multifamily homes because studies show they're less of a burden on schools and roads than single-family homes.

A $13,000 tax on a $30,000 manufactured home "would be the death knell of the business," said Michael Weinman, a managing partner for Lakeside Partnership, which runs the Lakeside Park mobile home development off Halfway Boulevard.

Commissioner James F. Kercheval assured the audience that a separate committee is studying fair housing issues.

Another speaker, Peter H. Plamondon Jr., said his business, Plamondon Hospitality, is planning to build a 68,000-square-foot hotel near Valley Mall. An excise tax of $4 per square foot is excessive, considering that hotel patrons don't burden local schools, public safety or roads, he said.

The commissioners got a compliment from Hagerstown resident Martin Brubaker, who said, "A broad-based tax is the way to do this."

Brubaker also recommended a tighter definition of workforce housing and urged county officials to closely monitor how excise tax revenue is used.

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