Bill to update Washington County excise tax could face changes

February 07, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

ANNAPOLIS - Washington County's state lawmakers agreed Wednesday to file a bill updating the county's excise tax structure - but vowed to make changes it to later.

Members of the county's General Assembly delegation challenged the level of fees and other aspects of the drafted bill.

With a looming deadline, they agreed to file the bill, but some said they will seek amendments.

The bill is the second part of a process that started last year, when the county got permission to abolish its flat-rate excise tax in favor of a fee based on square footage.

The Washington County Commissioners recommended a rate of $3 per square foot for new residential construction. For nonresidential construction, the commissioners proposed $3 per square foot for retail and $1 for nonretail.

During a meeting with county officials Wednesday, Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, questioned why the commissioners have a cap of $6 per square foot for nonresidential building, which he said was too high.


But Del. Richard B. Weldon Jr., R-Frederick/Washington, said $6 is a maximum. If the commissioners want to raise the fee, they must have public hearings, he said.

"They're the ones that have to suffer the political consequences of a rate that was set too high," he said.

"We have the same concerns that everybody else has, as far as affordable housing," Commissioner James F. Kercheval said.

Sen. George C. Edwards, R-Garrett/Allegany/Washington, said he preferred letting the county set whatever rate it sees fit, instead of coming back again to ask for a new fee.

In deciding on new fees, Kercheval said, the county, using construction and housing estimates, tried to make the new structure "revenue neutral," meaning the same amount of revenue would come in.

Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, was the only delegation member to vote against filing the bill.

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, who has pledged not to attend delegation meetings this session, was absent. He later said he spoke at a statewide library event instead.

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