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Maryland's detrimental regulatory climate discussed at business roundtable

November 08, 2011|By HEATHER KEELS | heather.keels@herald-mail.com

After listening to local business leaders speak for an hour Tuesday morning about the detrimental regulatory climate in Maryland, Del. Andrew A. Serafini was ready to secede from the state.

"We would be the largest county in West Virginia if we joined them," Serafini, R-Washington, joked during a business roundtable at the Susquehanna Bank office building on Dual Highway.

Underlying the jest was a sense of serious frustration and desire for change that pervaded the meeting between members of the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce, the Washington County legislative delegation and the Washington County Board of Commissioners.

In addition to Serafini, delegation members Sen. Christopher B. Shank and Del. Neil C. Parrott, both R-Washington, attended.

Chamber members shared stories of how high corporate taxes, cumbersome review processes and costly regulations make Maryland an undesirable place to do business.

"The new FirstEnergy management looks at Maryland as crazy," said Roger Heasley, director of external affairs for Potomac Edison. "First Energy's in seven states, and Maryland, by far, stands out, because of the way it is regulated in the Public Service Commission."

Ohio-based FirstEnergy acquired Allegheny Power in a merger in February and operates in Maryland as Potomac Edison.

Ronald Vitkun, owner of Yogi Bear's Jellystone Park near Williamsport, said he must make $172,000 worth of improvements  to meet the state's regulations, including installing stormwater-management ponds, adding fire-suppressant systems to cabins and accessibility features to pools, and upgrading the park's radios.

The park's profits aren't enough to cover the needed work, and lenders will not loan him the money for the projects because they are not the type of improvements that offer a return on an investment, Vitkun said.

"Which law do I break?" he asked. "I don't have a choice. Banks won't lend me the money, cash flow isn't there. So I have no choice other than to keep my fingers crossed that MDE (the Maryland Department of the Environment) won't come in and ... fine me, or someone won't sue me."

Those are the kind of pressures that make businesses consider relocating, Serafini said.

Randy Thompson, chief executive officer of ThompsonGas, said another way in which Maryland lags behind other states is turnaround for review of development proposals.

"The notion that to develop a commercial parcel of land in Washington County ... takes four to six reviews by the State Highway Administration, with requests for traffic study after traffic study, and all the shenanigans that go along with that, and all the money and time it takes to do that, is absurd," Thompson said.

Thompson encouraged the delegation and commissioners to focus on what they could do locally, such as offering incentives.

"We can only do so much with the votes we have" in the General Assembly, he said.

Serafini said even if Western Maryland legislators cannot win over the Democratic majority in Annapolis, perhaps they could convince the state to let the western part of the state serve as a testing ground for a more business-friendly approach to regulatory enforcement.

"They think the world ends, sometimes, at Frederick," Serafini said. "There are those mountains they don't want to cross over, so, great; sometimes we can use that to our advantage."

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