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COUNTY COMMENT: Commissioners Discuss Schools, Excise Taxes

Commissioners Discuss Schools, Excise Taxes
By Norman Bassett
Washington County Public Information Officer

Two issues of importance to the community were discussed the May 29th meeting of the Washington County Board of County Commissioners: funding for the Barbara Ingram School for the Arts, and development of a state-mandated Excise Tax Task Force.
The meeting, at the Washington County Technical High School, was held jointly with the Board of Education (BOE) to discuss the Arts school issue.
An agreement had been made by the BOE with the Maryland Economic Development Corporation to fund the $11.5 million project with bonds that would have had an interest rate of 5.5%. County Financial Advisor Lester Guthorn briefed the bodies on financing options available, and said the most cost-effective method of funding the project would be to enter into a long-term lease through a lending institution, that would have a rate of about 4.6%.
Following discussion of a number of issues relating to options for financing the school and public fund-raising, the Commissioners reached consensus to support the Board of Education moving forward with a Lease-Finance funding plan in the most cost-effective manner, provided County taxpayers did not have to shoulder the fiscal burden.
Following the joint meeting, the County Commissioners discussed establishment of an Excise Tax Task Force to study ways that new residential and commercial construction support increased need fir public facilities.
House Bill 1355, passed this spring, allowed limitations on the County's excise tax cap to be lifted for Fiscal Year 2008, and allowed excise taxes to be based on square footage of a proposed dwelling or commercial building. Taxes on residential facilities could be imposed on a graduated scale. That Bill also required that the Commissioners appoint a task force to make recommendations on the building tax rate and structure for residential development.
The Excise Tax Task Force would provide recommendations on changes and how the taxes should be implemented, to the Commissioners by September 30th .
The Board discussed the need for representation from a broad range of stakeholders.
A 13-member committee would include a County staff person as Chair, and 1 representative from each of 10 categories of interest, including the Economic Development Community, Builders, Realtors, Non-Profit Builders, Homeowners, the Maryland Municipal League local chapter, Lenders, Urban Redevelopers, a Land Attorney, and a member of the Local Delegation to the General Assembly. In addition there would be 2 At-Large members from the citizenry. Staff support would come from the County departments of Budget and Finance, Permits and Inspections, Planning and the County Attorney, as well as from the Board of Education.
Consensus was reached to move ahead with advertisement of the need for members, and a deadline for application. Sign-up information was posted to the County website, with the ability to apply on-line. Approval of the Task Force membership was to take place on mid-June, and meetings would be scheduled through the summer months.

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