Commissioners pass plan to boost residential construction

October 13, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- The Washington County Commissioners voted 3-1 Tuesday to introduce a short-term stimulus program that combines an excise tax credit, a permit fee reduction and a recordation tax break to encourage residential construction and make homes more affordable.

If successful, the program will provide up to about $9,000 in up-front incentives for new homes, which could reduce the amount required as down payment, increase the possibility of loan qualification or even reduce monthly payments, county Permits and Inspections Director Daniel F. DiVito said. This, in turn, could trigger an increase in residential construction activity and improve employment in the county, DiVito said.

Commissioner Kristin B. Aleshire voted against the program, saying it sounded like "a real good deal for large developers and spec investors" and needed a provision to reserve at least 25 percent of the benefits for builders of individual homes.

The program also was criticized by at least one local Realtor, Nancy S. Allen of Roger Fairbourn Real Estate in Hagerstown, who e-mailed the commissioners to say the program will flood a market already saturated with homes that are not selling, causing all homeowners to lose equity.


The program passed Tuesday applies to one- and two-family homes, condominiums and residential additions. It will be funded by the county's economic development fund, unless that money is designated to another use, in which case the program will be funded by the county's Capital Improvement Program reserves, the commissioners said.

The program offers a credit equal to the excise tax due on up to 2,500 square feet of each home, up to a limit of five homes per builder. Excise tax is meant to offset the impact of development on infrastructure and is used to fund schools, roads and infrastructure, according to the county's excise tax ordinance.

The excise tax credit will be available for homes issued building permits through Feb. 1, 2010, or until the county distributes credits for 150,000 square feet -- whichever comes first.

In addition, builders will have to complete a framing inspection within six months of permit issuance and receive a use and occupancy certificate within 18 months.

The 150,000-square-foot cap means that if each participating home were at least 2,500 square feet, the credit would apply to 60 homes. At $3 per square foot for new home construction, the maximum cost to the county in excise tax revenue would be $450,000, DiVito said.

The school capacity requirements and other terms of the county's Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance would still apply to homes receiving the credit, the commissioners said.

The permit fee component of the incentive program reduces building permit fees 50 percent for projects that meet the criteria for the excise tax credit.

The average total for permit fees for a new home is $1,000, DiVito said.

In addition, the program offers a 100 percent waiver of building permit fees for energy-related projects on new or existing homes with permits issued through Feb. 1. Those projects include installing energy-saving windows, increasing insulation by at least 15 percent, replacing water heaters and HVAC systems with more-efficient equipment, utilizing alternative energy sources such as solar or wind energy, or any other projects that comply with the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code, DiVito said.

Finally, the recordation tax break component of the program will waive the buyer's portion only of the recordation tax on up to $200,000 worth of home through Feb. 1. The recordation tax is a tax paid at the recordation of a purchase, such as a mortgage or deed or trust, and is generally shared by the buyer and seller, according to information distributed at the commissioners' meeting.

On a $200,000 mortgage in Washington County, the buyer's portion of the recordation tax would be about $760, the handout said.

The commissioners agreed to review the stimulus program in January to determine whether it is serving the intended purpose.


John F. Barr - yes

Terry Baker - yes

Kristin B. Aleshire - no

William J. Wivell - yes

James F. Kercheval was absent.

The Herald-Mail Articles