Washington County officials to study economic development ideas

Tax credits, revolving loan fund considered

October 25, 2011|By HEATHER KEELS |

Washington County officials agreed Tuesday to devote further study to two economic development ideas: a tax credit for high-performance or “green” buildings and a revolving loan fund for loans to businesses.

The county Board of Commissioners reached a consensus to send both ideas to the county’s Economic Development Commission for study and recommendations.

County Administrator Gregory B. Murray suggested that the county offer a property tax credit for high-performance buildings that receive silver or higher ratings on the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, building-rating system.

“Not only is it prudent to encourage the use of those type of buildings simply because of the impact on the environment, energy consumption, cost to operate, et cetera, but when you look at those types of buildings, they typically cost the developer more to build than just a conventional building,” Murray said.

That means more tax revenue from the building, so it would be prudent for the county to credit some of that back to the builder for the first few years to encourage a building that will generate greater tax revenue after the credit expires, he said.

The other suggestion, a revolving loan fund, was originally developed in 2009, when the previous board of commissioners put together a $1 million “employment boost package,” but was not included in the final program, Budget and Finance Director Debra S. Murray said.

The current board of commissioners said in July they were interested in re-examining the idea.

The loans could be used to support local start-ups, small businesses or specific industries, depending on the commissioners’ preferences, and could come in the form of guarantees of other types of loans, or in actual cash disbursement on a revolving basis, Gregory Murray said.

“There’s a lot of different avenues that we could go with this,” he said.

Commissioner William B. McKinley asked whether the program would compete with banks, while Commissioner Ruth Anne Callaham asked whether it would compete with a revolving loan fund offered by the Tri-County Council for Western Maryland.

Debra Murray said the county’s loan fund would be intended as “gap financing” to cover funds needed above what a business qualified to receive from a bank.

Gregory Murray said loans approved from the Tri-County Council have generally been for large amounts. The county program would be ideal for projects that do not qualify for Tri-County Council loans or for businesses that are more comfortable working with a smaller, more local agency, he said.

Gregory Murray suggested that a committee could be formed to review the loan applications.

“Certainly, in our business community or the EDC itself, we have people who are well-versed in business plans and that type of evaluation,” he said.

The commissioners agreed to have the EDC review the plan and make specific recommendations about eligibility for the loans, the form they would take and how to administer the program.

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