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Delegation backs excise tax exemptions with conditions

February 09, 2006|by TAMELA BAKER

ANNAPOLIS

tammyb@herald-mail

Local lawmakers agreed Wednesday to sponsor legislation to let the Washington County Commissioners grant exemptions from the county's excise tax on commercial development.

But there's a catch.

While the bill allows the commissioners to grant exemptions to new businesses at their discretion, it requires them to grant exemptions to existing businesses that want to expand - unless the expansion at least doubles the size of the facility.

The commissioners asked the Washington County Delegation to the Maryland General Assembly to sponsor enabling legislation that spells out their authority to grant exemptions. They believed the excise tax bill passed last year did not give them clear power to waive the tax; they wanted to be able to use exemptions as a tool to recruit new business.

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Del. LeRoy E. Myers, R-Washington/Allegany, repeating his argument that such exemptions were unfair to businesses wishing to expand, proposed requiring the county to exempt them from the tax.

"I have talked to people who've said, 'I'm not going to expand my business,' and have gone to West Virginia and Pennsylvania," he said.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, agreed.

As the bill was originally written, he said, "the existing language punishes existing businesses."

He noted that he'd heard similar concerns regarding housing projects for low-income senior citizens. He said the excise tax would make such projects cost-prohibitive.

Mandating exemptions from the tax didn't sit easily with Del. Richard B. Weldon, R-Washington/Frederick, although he voted to sponsor the amended bill.

"I'm hung up on this business of mandating waivers," he said.

Myers said the county still could impose impact fees on an industrial park. But without protections built into the excise tax, he said, "it's falling back to the little guy - it's almost as if they're expendable."

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, brokered a bit of a compromise.

"There's substantially good reason to protect business and industry in Washington County," he said.

He suggested including in the bill a requirement that the commissioners report back to the delegation by next January how the exemptions are working.

"I think that is making the point," Weldon replied. "It's partly policy and partly communication."

Munson also amended the bill to exempt nonprofit low-income senior housing projects from the excise tax.

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