On Tuesday, the Washington County Commissioners voiced their continued opposition to a bill before the Maryland Senate that would strip the county of its ability to collect an admissions and entertainment tax. Sen. Paul Corderman (R-Washington/Frederick) has introduced legislation that would exempt Washington County and its municipalities from the tax, which local governments in Maryland are permitted to impose at any rate of up to 10%.
In the event that the bill is passed by the Maryland General Assembly, Washington County will be the only county in Maryland that is exempt. Even though Corderman had requested for the commissioners’ support for the bill at their meeting on February 14, they ultimately opted not to back it and instead asked County Attorney Kirk Downey to write a letter to Corderman suggesting they would consider abolishing the fee themselves.
As Corderman put it to Herald-Mail Media, “going to be problematic, because now you’re gonna set up a system of almost competitive imbalance within our county.” On Monday he wrote them a letter imploring them to think again. He provided a table detailing the sums collected by the county and by the local governments as a result of taxation.
“As you will see, regardless of the size of the municipality or the County as a whole, the A&A tax revenue is a miniscule amount in comparison to the overall general funds of each respected entity; with an approximate average revenue share of 0.5%, or better explained as half of one percent of any potentially affected entity,” he wrote. “Essentially, 99.5% of a municipality’s (or) the County’s general fund revenues would remain unaffected.”
The current rates for the Washington County admissions and amusement tax are 3% for bingo and 5% for all other forms of entertainment. Municipal rates range from 1% to 10%, and they would remain the same regardless of what the county did with its own rate. Smithsburg and Hagerstown have different tax collection methods.
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Corderman’s office compiled data from local governments that apply the tax and found that receipts varied from $488.98 in Smithsburg to $587 in Funkstown to $14,731.40 in Boonsboro to an estimated $250,000 in Hagerstown. According to data provided by Corderman’s office, the admissions and amusements tax in the county brought in $319,188 that year.
The commissioners, though, showed no signs of change. Commissioner Derek Harvey said the board needs to assess how the impact of revoking their authority to impose the tax would affect towns.
“It could be going up in the future with the baseball stadium for Hagerstown’s perspective,” he said, referencing the facility currently under construction downtown. “Boonsboro gets $14,000 a year. We get asked a lot for small amounts of money in the municipalities.” “These small amounts matter, and it adds up,” he said.
It would not have much of an effect on consumers, he contended, even if the tax were reduced. “But I’m not sure we know what the real impact is gonna be on businesses,” he said. “I for one have not heard from one business person yet, or constituent, asking for the amusement tax to be cut.” He explained that the proceeds might be used to help fund county-supported facilities like The Maryland Theatre.
“This is asking us to take a cut, and then we have to find a way to replace it from somewhere else in the budget”, he said. “They may seem like small cuts to someone in Annapolis, but they impact our decision-making here where the rubber hits the road.” In agreement with Harvey’s assessment, Commissioner Randy Wagner speculated that the towns would approach the county for financial assistance if they lost that revenue.
“So it’s more of an impact on the county government here than what we might think,” he said. According to Downey, his office had prepared a letter opposing the measure to send to Corderman as instructed at the last meeting but had not yet submitted it. In the letter, the commissioners are identified as,
“considering whether to terminate the collection of the admissions and amusement tax here in Washington County, however the board would like to retain the authority to impose or forgo the tax based on future economic conditions. And the board further believes that municipalities in Washington County should have the same policy discretion.”
The letter as drafted was approved by the commissioners, and it will be sent. The bill has been scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Budget and Taxes Committee for next Tuesday.
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