Lehigh cement plant due big refund for taxes on nontaxable storage silos NORTHWEST -- Taneytown * Union Bridge * New Windsor * Uniontown

September 22, 1993|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff Writer

Carroll County will be writing a check to Lehigh Portland Cement Co. for several hundred thousand dollars to repay the Union Bridge company for four years worth of taxes.

The company paid the taxes on $4 million worth of property that the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled should never have been taxed.

County, Union Bridge and Lehigh officials yesterday were still trying to figure out the impact of the court's refusal last week to reconsider a Court of Special Appeals decision in April that wiped Lehigh's cement storage silos from the county tax rolls.

County budget and tax officials had not computed an exact amount of the tax rebate, but Carroll Budget Director Steven D. Powell said yesterday that it could be "in the hundreds of thousands of dollars."

The rebate, he said, would come from the county's general fund, but would not likely affect Carroll's budget.

"While it is a significant amount of money, we would be able to handle a couple hundred thousand dollars without too much trouble," Mr. Powell said.

The impact on Union Bridge's $400,000-a-year budget could be more substantial. Mayor Perry Jones and Town Attorney John T. Maguire II could not be reached for comment yesterday, and town officials in April said they did not know what the impact would be on the town's finances. But calculations based on tax records in the state Department of Assessments and Taxation show that Lehigh's county tax bill on the silos was slightly under $100,000 a year and that the company paid more than $27,000 a year to the town.

In April, the Court of Special Appeals affirmed an earlier decision by Carroll Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr. that exempted the silos from taxation. Judge Burns cited a state law dating to the early 1900s that allows companies to avoid taxes on property that is integral to the manufacturing process.

That state law has been consistently upheld by the state's courts since a Carroll County case in 1924.

Lehigh plant manager David H. Roush said yesterday that the company has been paying taxes on the silos -- which have a market value of $7 million and a tax assessment of $4 million -- since 1957.

"We had been unjustly paying taxes until we finally fell awake" in 1988, Mr. Roush said, referring to the year the company challenged the assessments.

Mr. Roush said he did not know how much money the company would get back from the county or from the town of Union Bridge.

Larry White, of the state assessments office in Carroll, said he has not calculated the amount of money the town and county would have to pay Lehigh.

But he said that a substantial portion of the silos are within town limits, which means the town taxed them.

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