Hearing set on potential change to excise tax ordinance

Commissioners consider removing provision that calls for doubling of rate for fast-growing subdivisions

January 25, 2011|By HEATHER KEELS |

HAGERSTOWN — The Washington County Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to schedule a public hearing on a potential change to the county's excise tax ordinance.

The proposed change is to remove a provision in the ordinance that calls for doubling of the excise tax rate for fast-growing subdivisions.

The excise tax — a base rate of $3 per square foot on residential construction — is used to help fund schools, roads, parks and other infrastructure.

Currently, if building permits are issued for 25 homes in one fiscal year in a subdivision with school capacity or road capacity problems, subsequent permits issued that same fiscal year are charged double the excise tax.

Last summer, the previous board of commissioners suggested changing or removing that requirement, saying it was not necessary in the current economic times.

The provision was meant to help when the pace of growth requires infrastructure to be built sooner than planned, but lately growth has been so slow that projects are being delayed rather than moved up, former Commissioner James F. Kercheval said at the time.

Four of the five current commissioners said Tuesday they agreed with that reasoning for removing the provision. The fifth, Commissioners President Terry Baker, said he didn't support removing the doubling provision, but did want to invite public input on the idea, so he voted in favor of scheduling the public hearing.

"I still don't understand the urgency to move forward with eliminating the doubling," Baker said. "I think it's a very good tool to have in place."

Commissioner Ruth Anne Callaham said she was in favor of removing the doubling provision because it serves no purpose in the current economic climate.

"It seems to me if we have an opportunity to make government smaller and more efficient, then we should be doing it," she said.

Commissioner John F. Barr said he thought the doubling rule had been ineffective and noted that it had only been put into effect twice in more than five years.

Commissioners Jeff Cline and William B. McKinley both said they thought the doubling provision was hurting developers.

"I see it only as a negative message, a hindrance to any development that might be taking place out there," McKinley said.

A date for the public hearing has not been set.


How they voted

Here is how the Washington County Comissioners voted on a proposal to schedule a public hearing on removing the doubling provision in the excise tax ordinance:

  • Terry Baker — yes
  • John F. Barr — yes
  • Ruth Anne Callaham — yes
  • Jeff Cline — yes
  • Bill McKinley — yes
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