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Article Archive >> In Your County

Board of County Commissioners: Commissioners Hear Housing Report

Board of County Commissioners
Commissioners Hear Housing Report, Consider Tax Credit Repeal, Hold Work Sessions

In its regular meeting on February 1st, 2011, the Washington County Board of County Commissioners heard the Housing Authority of Washington County (HAWC) annual report.
HAWC Director Richard Willson provided information on activities of the housing office during 2010, and future direction of the agency.
In 1999, the County spun the Housing Authority of Washington County (HAWC) off as an independent County agency. The opportunity to discuss the agency's annual report allows the current Board of County Commissioners to familiarize themselves with the properties and housing opportunities in the HAWC portfolio.
Highlights of the program included the HAWC Rent-to-Own program, its Senior housing locations across the County, and its Section 8 rental assistance program.
Willson told the Board that in 2011 HAWC will seek approval from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to convert the form of rental assistance in the scattered site program, Blue Mountain Estates and at Parkview Knoll from "public housing" to Section 8, to benefit current residents by allowing them to take their rental assistance with them if their circumstances change.
Senior housing at Blue Mountain Estates will expand, adding sixteen one-bedroom apartments in a 2.5 story-building configuration with the $3.8 million cost covered by a grant from the Maryland Affordable Housing Trust.
Commissioners heard plans for creation of a Public Service Announcement designed to reduce trash dumping at recycling sites, to be televised on local outlets and posted on the Internet.
Solid Waste Department Recycling Coordinator Tony Drury and Sheriff's Deputy Alan Matheny told the Board that as the result of citizen complaints about recyclables, trash and garbage being placed on the ground when the bins are full, new signs are being created warning citizens of substantial fines for improper dumping or littering.
The abuse at the drop-off sites has also caused an increase in cost to the Solid Waste Department for manpower time required to clean up the site and for disposal of the material into the landfill.
The Washington County Sheriff Department and the Solid Waste Department have been working together over the past several months to address the issues and determined that a joint public service announcement (PSA) outlining the acceptable user practices of the boxes and consequences of littering at the boxes would provide a mechanism of getting the word out and addressing the issue.
Litterers can be fined $1,500 for an offense of less than 100 pounds; $12,500 for amounts from 100-500 pounds and $30,000 for items over 500 pounds. Recyclables left on the ground when bins are full would constitute littering, Matheny said, as would large recyclable items.
The PSA will be completed over the next several weeks, and will air on local television and cable outlets. In addition, sites will be monitored to reduce influx of material from out-of-state or out-of-county.
Commissioners discussed repeal of a property tax credit instituted last year that was designed to assist renters and landlords. The Residential Non-Homeowner Occupied Homestead Tax Credit Program was approved by the previous Board last May and went into effect July 1st. The intent was to place a 10% cap on annual assessment increases for residential non-homeowner occupied (rental) properties, offering protection from the effects of rising assessments throughout the triennial assessment period. The program provided taxpayer relief of $105,347.28 to date. Washington County is the only jurisdiction within the State of Maryland that offers such a program.
County Treasurer Todd Hershey told the Board that the State Department of Assessments and Taxation (SDAT) assisted Washington County with implementation of the program for FY '11 billing but made it clear that they would be unable to assist with the FY '12 credit program, indicating that they did not have the technical support necessary to retain prior year credit information to successfully carry the local program forward. SDAT suggested that the task could be outsourced to an Information Technology vendor at a minimum cost of $10,000.00.
The number of eligible properties declined and some accounts were not legitimately eligible for the credit, such as accounts experiencing minor improvements, consolidated accounts, and tax credit removals.
In addition there is a Sunset Provision in the law that terminates or repeals the program after June 20, 2012 unless further action is taken to extend the program.
Projections showed that it could cost the County $10,000 to receive $10,000 in benefits. Additional information was needed by the Commissioners prior to a final decision.
In other actions, the Board approved a Budget Transfer in the amount of $170,000.00 from the Halfway and Massey Boulevard Intersection Budget to the Phase 1A Emergency Housing Unit Budget at the Sheriff's Department and a change order in the amount of $126,270.81 for the Phase 1A Emergency Housing Unit contract with Palmer Construction Inc.
The contract value increased to address water valves, unsuitable materials, door hardware, and security lighting corrections. The largest expense and delay has been incurred due to unsuitable soils on site.
Deputy Director of Public Works for Capital Projects Engineering Rob Slocum told the Board that $1.1 million was saved in the bid for the Halfway Boulevard/Massey Boulevard project.
Under Other Business, County Administrator Greg Murray reminded the Board that additional orientation sessions will be set, as the new Commissioners learn the function of the various County departments. In addition, work sessions designed to bring Board members up to speed on issues of importance in the Community that impact County Government, start later in this meeting. Capital Improvement Project budgets for FY 2012 will be presented for review beginning February 8th.
The Board approved advertisement and filling of a vacant Senior Plant Operator position in the Department of Water Quality at Grade 10, with a minimum salary of $35,031.00. Human Resources Director Bill Sonnik told the Board that the position, at the Smithsburg Wastewater Treatment Plant occurred due no a retirement and promotion.
Commissioners held three work sessions to learn about and discuss ongoing issues of importance to County citizens currently being addressed by government projects and programs. The sessions were for discussion only, and no official actions were taken.
Director of Permits and Inspections Dan DiVito brought "Son of Stimulus", a report on the residential excise tax and fee reduction program held in 2010 before the Board. The recently elected Board expressed interest in seeing the program renewed, to spur creation of jobs in the construction industry.
Divito stated that the previous program was a success, with 78 new homes and 51 additions started, resulting in 244 Trade Permits issued.
In the 2010 program, new single-family residences and residential additions were provided a credit in up front incentives that could reduce the amount required as down payment, increasing the possibility of loan qualification, or reducing monthly payments. The amount was based on a credit for the first 2,500 sq ft of construction. In addition reduction in permit fees were provided, and elimination of some fees were given for energy-saving construction and devices. These incentives in turn triggered an increase in residential construction activity and had a positive effect on employment in the county.
Discussion took place on the merits of a flat per square foot fee, whether relief would be given modular and mobile home buyers, time frame for a possible program, and reduction in the square foot amount of the excise tax.
Several homebuilders in attendance made factual comments in support of renewal of the incentive program. Funkstown Mayor and developer Paul Crampton told the Board that 50% of his business during the covered period was due to the incentives for new homebuyers offered by the program.
Further discussion on the issue is scheduled to take place within two weeks.
A workshop was conducted on the School Mitigation Process included in the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance (APFO).
The APFO allows a developer seeking to build a subdivision with more than 5 lots to request a mitigation plan approved by the Board when a school is over capacity. In the past, each mitigation proposal has come before the Board multiple times prior to approval. Staff sought direction from this Board as to its thoughts on how mitigation should be handled in the future.
Mitigation agreements can be entered into for roads, water and sewer and schools at the discretion of the Board. Roads and water/sewer improvements are usually handled with individual agreements handled by Public Works or the Division of Environmental Management. School proposals are always brought before the Board for action.
When a major development of 5 lots or more is submitted for final plat approval at the Planning Department, it is subject to testing under the APFO. As part of the testing, the Department seeks comment from the Washington County Public Schools. If the enrollment of the school exceeds 90% of the State Rated Capacity at the elementary level or 100% of capacity at the middle or high school level, the development cannot be approved. The developer is advised of the situation and can either put the project on hold or propose mitigation.
Over the last five years, there have been approximately fifteen mitigation agreements entered into by the Board. The majority of these agreements have involved the developer paying a mitigation fee ranging from $1,000.00 to $9,000.00 per lot in addition to the standard excise tax.
Planning Director Mike Thompson told the Board that streamlining of the process was needed so that a fair and equitable policy for mitigations can be developed.
Thompson, Environmental Planner Bill Stachoviak and Solid Waste Department Director Cliff Engle also brought the Solid Waste and Recycling Plan for 2011-2021 to the Board in a work session.
State regulations require the County to develop a Solid Waste Management
Plan for a minimum ten-year period. The County adopted the current plan in 2000 and updated it in 2005 and 2007. The Plan was developed with the assistance of the Division of Environmental Management, Department of Solid Waste and the Solid Waste Advisory Board, and prepared after public meetings were held in Boonsboro,
Smithsburg, Hagerstown and Hancock in May 2009. The Plan incorporates the comments from those meetings as well as new and updated data provided by the Solid Waste Department.
The Draft Plan was advertised for the required 90-day review period in March and April 2010. In addition, the Draft Plan was sent to the City of Hagerstown, all municipalities in the county, libraries, the Maryland Department of Environment and posted on the County Home Page requesting comments. Editorial comments were received from MDE, the Hagerstown Department of Water Quality and several e-mails from citizens. In addition, MDE requested additional information on the Washington County Public Schools recycling plan, including a list of every school participating and verification of action dates.
The Board of County Commissioners held a public hearing on the Plan in
September 2010. At the conclusion of that hearing, the Board directed staff to re-work a number of areas and to have the Solid Waste Advisory Committee review the
Plan. Cliff Engle, Director of the Department of Solid Waste, discussed the Plan with the committee and forwarded suggested changes to the Planning Department, which have now been incorporated into the Draft Plan.
The next step in the approval process will be to schedule a public hearing on the Plan, due to revisions made since the last hearing and in light of the fact that three of the Board members have been recently elected. The Board will discuss the issue further at a later date.
NOTE: The above constitutes a summary press release and is not to be considered the Official Minutes of the meeting. Minutes of County Commissioners meetings are available at www.washco-md.net on the Commissioners' page.

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