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Tax breaks need guidelines

November 23, 2005

The Washington County Commissioners don't want much from the Maryland General Assembly this year, but what they're asking for could have a major impact on economic development here.

What the commissioners want is the authority to exempt some businesses from the county's excise tax on new construction.

If an exemption spurs the creation of new jobs, we're in favor of that. But we also agree with Del. LeRoy Myers, R-Washington/Allegany, who said there need to be guidelines in place to determine who gets the break.

Commissioner President Greg Snook said that the delegation members "have to rely on us using some common sense to try to do what's best for the business community."

The commissioners decided on Oct. 25 that they did not have the power to grant exemptions to the tax for nonresidential construction, with Commissioner John Munson offering the opinion that the county had erred in the wording of the bill.

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That there is a bill at all is a wonder. In March, the delegation sent the commissioners a letter saying that a proposal to revise the tax "was delivered to the delegation late in the process without thinking through all of the details"

To encourage the commissioners to think the matter through, the delegation mandated that the commissioners appoint a commission to study issues including work force housing and the effect of rising assessments on county homeowners.

The commissioners are ahead of last year's pace, which is good. But we agree with Del. Myers that there should be rules for determining who gets a break on the excise tax.

Why? In April 2004, the commissioners approved a change in their Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance fee on commercial construction after an office building's developer said the fee was too costly.

The commissioners later cut the fee, although no information was presented on whether the 100 proposed jobs would be new positions or just relocated from another area of the county.

Tax breaks should go to developers and entrepreneurs who create new jobs that pay more than the minimum wage.

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