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Job-incentive plan still undecided

July 14, 2009|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- The Washington County Commissioners took another stab on Tuesday at setting up a job-creation incentive program, but, without a deciding vote, the proposal was put off again.

For months, the commissioners have talked about an "employment boost" for businesses that need help starting or expanding.

The plan came back before the commissioners on Tuesday afternoon and was modified.

But two of the four commissioners present wouldn't commit to the program.

Commissioners President John F. Barr, who would have been the deciding vote, was absent for that portion of the meeting.

Barr didn't return a message left on his cell phone Tuesday evening to ask if he supported the program.

Businesses that meet certain benchmarks would get funding from a $1 million county incentive account. The money already is set aside in the budget.

Projects that create at least 10 new full-time jobs for three years or involve a capital investment of at least $1 million would be eligible.

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One incentive is funding: $2,500 for each new job or $2,500 for each $1 million in new capital investment, whichever is greater.

Other proposed incentives are a speedier county review and approval process, and a three-year payment plan for excise taxes.

Project construction would have to start by June 30, 2010.

Projects that create one to nine new jobs for three years would be eligible for accelerated review and approval, and a three-year excise-tax payment, but not $2,500-per-job funding.

Commissioner James F. Kercheval, a strong advocate for the program, said it might help companies "on the fence" get started and could cut into the county's high unemployment rate, which is about 10 percent.

But Commissioners Vice President Terry Baker said he needs assurance that a significant number of jobs would be created before committing $1 million in taxpayer money.

Commissioner William J. Wivell also balked, saying the money might be better directed to one significant project.

Commissioner Kristin B. Aleshire said he supports the concept, but disagreed with some of the details, such as having simultaneous review of site plans, building plans and other parts of a project.

One small change in a building proposal can mean other major changes, so a simultaneous review is "setting those departments up for failure," Aleshire said.

The commissioners agreed to remove a provision Aleshire opposed -- a three-year payment plan for sewer-connection fees.

The commissioners have talked about the "employment boost" program at meetings in recent months.

Last month, they decided that retail projects would have to create jobs that pay, on average, twice the minimum wage to be eligible for incentives.

Robin Ferree, deputy director of the Hagerstown-Washington Economic Development Commission, told the commissioners that the incentive program could create excitement about building in the county again.

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