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As Long as We Remember...

November 10, 2011

Here’s The Reason…..

Blaine R. Young

It never ceases to amaze me how supporters of people with tired ideas in Frederick County cling to old stereotypes and campaign slogans long after an election and most of us have moved on.


I am speaking of the people who continue to blame property owners and real estate developers for every problem in society, even though that strategy backfired and they got swamped in the last election.


The most recent issue that brings all this to light is the action by the Board of County Commissioners last week to reduce the construction excise tax from 75¢ per square foot to zero. You will note that it was reduced to zero; it was not eliminated. In the event it is ever proven that it would be wise public policy to reinstate the tax, the framework is there and all the county commissioners would have to do is hold a public hearing on the new tax rate.


Of course, what we hear coming from the same apparently very bored people is that this is a “handout” to developers, or a payback to certain “friends” of the commissioners elected last year.


When neighboring counties cut construction-related taxes or fees (like Montgomery and Washington counties have recently done), it is hailed in the media as a tough but necessary choice to spur the economy during dark economic times. While seven other counties and Baltimore City have no construction-related excise taxes or fees whatsoever, we do not see the integrity of their leaders called into question for doing favors for their so-called “friends.”


In these other jurisdictions public policy debates on the appropriate amount of money a government should extract from those trying to create jobs is treated as just that: A policy debate. In Frederick County, in certain circles, it is treated as an opportunity for those whose ideas have been soundly rejected by the voters to continue to demonize certain segments of our economy and society, for their own personal gain and ego gratification.


I think some facts about the excise tax should be brought forward.


First, the excise tax can only be used for the expansion of new transportation infrastructure. It cannot be used for fixing potholes, repaving or other basic and ongoing road maintenance and repairs.


When the excise tax was first implemented in Frederick County in February 2002, the economy was thriving and it was thought to be a new source of revenue to speed up much needed expansion of road infrastructure. Since then, though, the State of Maryland has raided the Transportation Trust Fund to the tune of almost a billion dollars, and is now considering raising the gas tax by another 15¢ per gallon during the upcoming legislative session.


Rather than make the tough choices to cut government spending, the governor and the legislature stole money from the Transportation Trust Fund, which we paid into it through the current gas tax, and which we had been told would be set aside for transportation projects. We were lied to, and it looks like all we are going to get from our leaders in Annapolis is more lies and another 15¢ per gallon on gasoline.


The truth of the matter is that right now we should be doing everything we can to get some economic development. Although the old, worn-out, no-growth crowd doesn’t want to hear it; economic development means once in a while building something new on a piece of land.


We are on pace in Frederick County for another near record low number of building permits for 2011. The once thriving office and warehouse construction industry in this county is essentially on hold, with the only new significant projects on the drawing board seeming to be government projects.


And for those who think that the excise tax only hit the “fat cat” developers and builders, here’s what actually brought this issue to the forefront, at least in my mind.


Earlier this year the owner of the Walkersville Feed Store on Pennsylvania Avenue in Walkersville applied for a permit to put up a pole barn to add some storage capacity and some extra space for his business. Frederick County required him to write a check for $4,500 for the privilege of taking out this permit to build this pole barn for the storage of animal feed. This pole barn did not add one more vehicle to the streets, and I certainly haven’t heard about any traffic jams in Walkersville because of this new pole barn. Does anyone think it was fair to ask a struggling small businessman to pay $4,500 in excise tax to erect a pole barn? I certainly do not.


The commissioners decided to take a modest step in an attempt to spur some construction and thereby some economic growth. We don’t need any more taxes, as our legislature is about to jam down our throats. We need a few more taxpayers.


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