Washington Co. program to offer incentives to companies to add jobs

December 08, 2009|By HEATHER KEELS

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- The Washington County Commissioners on Tuesday approved a $500,000 "Job Attraction and Creation Program" that will provide financial incentives designed to encourage companies to build or expand facilities in the county and to add jobs.

The program, which starts Dec. 14, includes cash incentives for new jobs, a three-year payment program for excise tax, a permit fee reduction and a "fast track" program to move construction projects swiftly through hurdles within the county or outside approving agencies.

The commissioners set aside $1 million in the county's fiscal year 2010 budget for a program to boost employment, but could not agree on the details of the program during discussions in June and July.

Since then, the county considered using the funds to attract a specific project to the county, but economic development officials learned last month that effort was not successful, Robin L. Ferree, deputy director of the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission, told the commissioners Tuesday.


"We were not competitive with other states," Ferree said.

Now, with only six months left in the fiscal year, the county probably will not be able to attract new companies with the incentive funds, but it can use them to encourage existing companies to expand, he said.

The commissioners approved the program by a 4-1 vote, with Commissioner Terry Baker opposed. Baker said he was concerned about loopholes in the cash incentive, such as the potential for companies to bring in their own employees from outside of the county.

Ferree said he thought limiting the incentives to companies that hire county residents would pose legal issues, but he said preference would be given to companies that create jobs for county citizens.

The commissioners decided to make $500,000 available for the incentives, which will be available on a first-come, first-served basis until the funding is depleted. After that, the commissioners said they would discuss whether to allocate additional funding to extend the program.

The incentives approved Tuesday are:

o A $1,500 cash incentive per job created. To qualify, a business must create at least 10 new jobs by June 30, and the jobs must be full-time, permanent positions, paying at least 150 percent of the federal minimum wage. Retail jobs must pay at least twice the minimum wage. Currently, 150 percent of minimum wage is $10.88 and twice minimum wage is $14.50. The commissioners can approve a higher incentive for higher-paying jobs. The jobs must continue for at least three years.

o A three-year payment program for any required excise tax, with the first payment due one year from the issuance of a building permit. Any non-retail business can request this incentive, but retail businesses must create at least 10 new jobs to qualify.

o A reduction of fees for building, electrical, HVAC and plumbing permits on a qualifying business's new or expansion construction project. Fees are reduced by 75 percent for all projects other than retail and residential projects and 25 percent for retail projects.

o "Fast Track" approval for projects creating at least 10 jobs. The county administrator will monitor fast track projects to quickly resolve any construction-related issues that develop with county departments or outside approving agencies.

The program also includes a provision that allows the county to force companies to repay the incentive if they do not follow through on the qualification requirements, Ferree said.

How they voted:

The Washington County Commissioners voted 4-1 to approve a job attraction and creation program.

John F. Barr - yes

Terry Baker - no

Kristin B. Aleshire - yes

James F. Kercheal - yes

William J. Wivell - yes

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