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Delegation amends Washington County excise-tax proposal

February 14, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

ANNAPOLIS - A plan to revamp Washington County's excise-tax system is facing more changes by the county's state representatives.

The county's delegation in Annapolis agreed Wednesday to amend a version of a bill the Washington County Commissioners previously requested.

The amendment would lower fees in a bill filed last week. It also would cut a provision allowing the excise tax to double when a new residential development exceeds 25 units.

The county's original proposal calls for a per-square-foot excise fee to replace one with a flat fee.

It sets a rate of $3 per square foot for new residential construction.

For nonresidential construction, the county commissioners proposed $3 per square foot for retail and $1 per square foot for nonretail.

They also asked for a cap of $6 per square foot for nonresidential buildings, up from the current $5.

The delegation filed the bill. No hearing date had been set as of Wednesday.

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Despite agreeing to the overall bill, Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, who objected to parts of it, has said the excise-tax cap should be lower.

The amendment the delegation approved Wednesday drops the cap to $4 per square foot.

It establishes an "industrial nonresidential" category at $1 per square foot.

Shank has spoken against doubling the excise tax after the 25th unit in a new development. That, too, is stricken from the new amendment.

Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany, said a high excise tax on businesses could drive jobs away.

"We can always come back next year and make changes," said Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, suggested a "sunset," or ending, clause to force the delegation to review the excise tax after a certain period. His request was changed to an annual "reporting" requirement, so the delegation can get updates.

Del. Richard B. Weldon Jr., R-Frederick/Washington, was the only delegation member to vote against the new amendment.

Later, he said the county commissioners should be allowed to set their own excise-tax standards and the "dramatically" different bill, without county input, was unfair.

However, delegation members said the amendment will be sent back to the commissioners for feedback.

In a phone interview Wednesday evening, Washington County Commissioner Kristin B. Aleshire said he was most concerned about omitting the "doubling" provision.

The basic argument against it might seem reasonable, but the change gives the county less flexibility in negotiating mitigation measures with developers, Aleshire said.

He also said he'd prefer "more breathing room" in the cap, so the commissioners don't have to return to the delegation if the fee structure needs to be raised.

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