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Excise tax concerns raised at APFO hearing

October 13, 2005|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

A public hearing on proposed changes to a Washington County ordinance dealing with growth regulations drew opposition about a related matter - the county's $13,000-per-unit building excise tax.

"I was appalled to find out it was going to cost me $13,000 before I could stick a shovel in the ground," said Harlan Barnes, who lives outside of Hagerstown.

He called the tax "too much of a burden for anyone to build a house."

Barnes was one of eight people who spoke Wednesday night at a public hearing held by the Washington County Commissioners.

The hearing at the Washington County Courthouse was a continuation of a Sept. 12 hearing on proposed changes to the county's Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO).

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The APFO, adopted in 1990 and amended several times since then, contains growth regulations intended to help ensure schools, roads and other public services and facilities are adequate to handle growth.

About 20 people attended the hearing.

Some who spoke said they wanted tougher APFO regulations to help relieve school capacity issues, while others spoke against the excise tax.

A portion of the excise tax previously was charged under the APFO. That changed when the County Commissioners received enabling legislation earlier this year to make the fee part of the excise tax.

Proposed changes to the APFO include removing language referring to that fee.

Other proposed amendments include changing the capacity level used to determine which elementary schools are considered adequate for growth from 85 percent to 90 percent of the state-rated capacity.

Such a move wouldn't result in a measurable difference because the state-rated capacity has dropped for elementary schools from 25 to 23 students per classroom, Planning Director Michael Thompson said.

Karen Reilly of Knoxville asked the commissioners to make the APFO more stringent to relieve overcrowded school conditions.

"We don't have the capacity for the children we have now," nor does the county have the money to renovate schools fast enough to handle enrollment increases, she said.

"Many of our schools will not be able to handle the impact of students ...," said Kim Austin of Knoxville. "Our schools need relief now, not three years from now when the first new school may come on line."

Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said the county would consider the comments from the public and make a decision on the proposed changes in the next several weeks.

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