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County wants to lift excise-tax cap

February 15, 2007|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

ANNAPOLIS - Washington County is asking state lawmakers for permission to remove its excise-tax cap and switch from a flat rate to a variable charge.

The county would switch to a progressive rate based on square footage, a draft bill says.

A task force would recommend new fees for one year, starting July 1, Assistant County Attorney Kirk C. Downey said.

Currently, the county's excise tax on residential new construction is $13,000 for a single-family home and $15,500 per unit for multi-family homes.

The county's delegation in Annapolis was poised to discuss and possibly vote on the idea Wednesday morning, but it hadn't seen the draft, so the issue was tabled.

Anne Gawthrop, the delegation's legislative counsel from the Department of Legislative Services, said at Wednesday's meeting that she hadn't received the proposal from the county by Tuesday afternoon.

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Downey said in a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon that he e-mailed it to Gawthrop late Tuesday afternoon.

The Washington County Commissioners have talked in recent weeks about changing the excise-tax structure to keep up with the cost of building new schools.

The commissioners voted 4-1 Tuesday to ask the delegation to file a bill to lift the cap. Commissioner William J. Wivell voted no.

On Jan. 24, Commissioner James F. Kercheval showed the delegation an analysis of how school construction costs are greater than the current excise-tax revenue plus state funding.

Kercheval made a preliminary pitch at the time for a bill to remove the cap. The commissioners asked for more specifics.

On Wednesday morning, delegation members were "champing at the bit," as Del. Richard B. Weldon Jr. put it, to discuss the county's proposal. "We're ready to do something," he said.

Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., the delegation chairman, said the delay in hearing from the county, plus possible opposition from delegation members, might merit waiting until next year.

Weldon, R-Frederick/Washington, said it would be unreasonable to make the county polish the plan for another year, only to encounter resistance from the delegation.

None of the lawmakers showed any inclination to reject the plan to restructure the excise tax.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington said it seemed like a good way to address school construction funding issues.

Myers, R-Washington/Allegany, said the change would help make housing more affordable for the working class.

"I like the direction they're heading," he said.

The county deserves the chance to solve its own problem, said Sen. George Edwards, R-Garrett/Allegany/Washington.

"The commissioners are elected to run the county," he said. "We're not."

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