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'Listening tour' brings Md. Comptroller Franchot to Hagerstown

May 17, 2010|By ANDREW SCHOTZ
  • Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot talks with local business owners Monday at Coldwell Banker Innovations on Dual Highway.
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer,

HAGERSTOWN -- Representatives from a bank, a medical clinic, a financial firm and a home-building company were among those who met Monday in Hagerstown with Maryland Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot.

Franchot, a Democrat running for re-election, made four stops in Western Maryland on Monday as part of a statewide "economic listening tour."

The Hagerstown roundtable was at Coldwell Banker Innovations on Dual Highway. Clarence Horst, who works there, organized the session.

Franchot meets quarterly with a business advisory council.

He said Monday that he was prompted to get out and talk to business people around the state after reading handwritten notes attached to residents' state tax returns this year.

Some wrote that they pay their income taxes on time each year, but this year, it's been tough and they only can pay a little at a time.

"What I've noticed is the angst," Franchot said. "It's a window into people's pain."

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During the Hagerstown meeting, Franchot asked business people and community leaders for suggestions and observations.

State Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, also attended.

Taylor Oliver, president of Oliver Homes, a home builder, said it's no longer easy to figure out what energy-saving features qualify for tax credits.

Sam Cool, an owner of The Landing Restaurant in Hagerstown, talked about a concern at his Montgomery County, Md., technology business: getting security clearances for employees.

Adam Roberson, the program director at Community Free Clinic, said the economy has hurt nonprofit organizations in various ways.

The clinic has served more patients because of job cuts in the community, he said. The center takes in less money because of grants tied to dwindling investments, companies with less money to spare and tip-jar proceeds that have dropped as fewer people play.

Franchot said the state needs to thank business owners more often, rather than treat them as endless supplies of tax revenue.

Centra Bank CEO Tim Henry said a "thank you" isn't as important as eliminating needless obstacles for businesses.

Franchot agreed. A key to the state's turnaround, he said, is "just getting out of the way" and letting businesses operate.

Suzanne Hayes, who works for Merrill Lynch, said she was glad to talk to an elected official who doesn't think government is the answer to everything.

She urged Franchot, who speaks out on many issues as comptroller, to use his bully pulpit. She said some state officials, through their rhetoric, have made investors wonder if Maryland's bonds are safe.

Franchot said the state's rocky economy shows signs of turning around, but still has a way to go.

In the past, state officials were distressed if the annual rate of economic growth dropped from 5 percent to 3 percent, he said. Now, the state is seeing a decline of about 5 percent.

However, as of July 1, the state is projecting 3.6 percent growth.

Franchot said that's a start, but Maryland would need five straight years of 14 percent growth to get back to the financial health it had.

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