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County tourism official pushes for film tax-credit

March 10, 2011|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com
  • Thomas B. Riford, the president and chief executive officer of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, emcees the opening of a new Heart of Civil War Heritage Area exhibit and visitor center Tuesday near Sharpsburg. Riford spoke in favor of a bill to create a $15 million tax-credit fund for films. Films in which more than $500,000 is spent in Maryland would be eligible for a tax break.
Herald-Mail file photo

ANNAPOLIS — Washington County's top tourism official was part of group advocating Thursday for a new state tax-credit program for films.

Thomas B. Riford, the president and chief executive officer of the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau, spoke in favor of a bill to create a $15 million tax-credit fund.

Films in which more than $500,000 is spent in Maryland would be eligible for a tax break.

The tax-credit program would replace an existing $1 million Film Production Rebate Program, according to an analysis by the state Department of Legislative Services.

Supporters say Maryland needs to do more to attract film production, which benefits the local economy and creates spin-off jobs.

The bill was heard in the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.

After the hearing, Sen. George C. Edwards, R-Garrett/Allegany/Washington, said the $15 million price tag is a hard sell while the state is struggling to fill a large budget gap.

"It's a good thing to do if you have the money to do it," he said.

The question is whether the benefits generated by the tax-credit fund outweigh its cost, Edwards said.

Riford, who is on the board of the Maryland Tourism Council and the Maryland Film Industry Coalition, said other states are less expensive for film productions.

"We lose more projects than we ever get," he said.

Washington County has been the setting for some small and large movies, including "Gods and Generals."

However, a production company making a movie about the French and Indian War wanted to shoot in Washington County, but went to Virginia, where it was $10,000 a day cheaper, according to Riford.

He said films can be a boon to the local economy — for example, generating hundreds of thousands of dollars just on hotel rooms.

The Department of Legislative Services analysis said production of the movie "Annapolis" in 2004 moved from Maryland to Pennsylvania because of $2 million to $3 million in incentives offered there.

Maryland also lost "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" to Louisiana because of incentives, the analysis said.

Under the bill, productions could get a credit equal to 25 percent of the direct costs for films and 27 percent for TV shows.

Films must be intended for nationwide commercial distribution.

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