Washington County Commissioners mixed on excise tax recommendations

October 10, 2007|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

WASHINGTON COUNTY - The Washington County Commissioners had mixed opinions Tuesday on a report recommending changes to the county's excise tax ordinance.

A task force created to suggest changes to the tax presented its recommendations during the county commissioners' regular weekly meeting.

The proposed changes include shifting the residential excise tax structure from a flat fee to a rate based on the square footage of a new home.

Several commissioners said they favored the change to a rate based on square footage. The differences of opinion largely hinged on the proposed tax rate of $2 per square foot, which likely would generate less revenue than the current rate structure.

"I'm kind of disappointed, really," Commissioner James F. Kercheval said during the presentation.

Kercheval argued that a $2 per square foot rate on residential construction would exacerbate an already existing shortfall in excise tax revenues. Last fiscal year, the county earned roughly $11.5 million less in revenue from the tax than it had budgeted.


Most of the tax, which is charged on new construction, funds school construction projects. Kercheval said the county cannot afford to lose revenue when most of the county's schools are at or above capacity.

Commissioners President John F. Barr, who favors the proposed $2 rate, said he thinks excise tax revenues would improve with a lower rate because more people would be encouraged to build homes in the county.

"A lot of builders have pulled out of Washington County. Everyone I've talked to is sitting back to see if this thing changes," Barr said.

Commissioner Terry L. Baker said he also approved of the rate and structure but wanted to hear what the Washington County Board of Education thought about the recommendations. Donna Brightman, a board of education member, sat on the task force and voted for a higher rate per square foot.

Task Force Chairman John Schnebly said the rate recommendation was passed by a slim majority on the task force and emphasized that the commissioners have the final say as to how the ordinance will be changed.

"We can make all the recommendations we want, but the commissioners and the [Maryland] General Assembly have the hard reality of dealing with budgets," Schnebly said.

The commissioners will review the report, which includes 14 recommendations, over the next two weeks. They will then discuss the recommendations with the county's delegation to the Maryland General Assembly, which would have to pass into law any changes to the county's excise tax ordinance.

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