Marina slip tax cut in half

March 22, 1994|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Sun Staff Writer

Just in time for the return of spring and the boating season, the County Council last night gave marina owners a 50 percent cut in the slip tax.

The council voted unanimously to cut the slip tax, which is assessed as a percentage of each docking or storage fee charged by a marina, from 10 percent to 5 percent.

Marina owners have long complained that the tax places them at a competitive disadvantage with marinas outside the county because Anne Arundel County is the only subdivision in the state with such a tax.

"It has never seemed right to me that we have something that no one else in the state has," Councilwoman Maureen Lamb, D-Annapolis, said during last night's public hearing.

Marina owners also argued that cutting the tax would give a boost to an ailing industry, which has seen vacancy rates -- unheard of in the past -- rise to 25 percent during recent years.

Commercial marina owners now find they have to compete not only with marinas in other counties, but also with marinas built by community associations inside the county, which are not subject to the slip tax.

The county collected a little more than $1 million from the slip tax in fiscal 1993.

"I appreciate your support and the entire marina industry thanks you very much for your support of this bill," said Steuart Chaney, an owner of Herrington Harbor marina who served on a committee, established by County Executive Robert R. Neall, that recommended cutting the tax.

Several council members left open the possibility that the tax could be abolished altogether, a move most marina owners advocate.

"I personally feel this is a tax that should be abolished in a specified period of time," said Councilman David G. Boschert, D-Crownsville. "I just feel in the long run it would be fiscally prudent to abolish the tax."

Michael Malinoff, Annapolis city administrator, intended to ask the council to consider exempting Annapolis from the bill so it could keep its slip tax at 10 percent.

Because property assessments did not increase much, "our revenue is going to go down this year," Mr. Malinoff said, and city officials do not want to see revenue from the slip tax decrease as well.

But in a legal opinion issued yesterday afternoon, the county law office said that Annapolis, which wants to retain the 10 percent slip tax, cannot be exempted from the bill because the council cannot, by law, set a separate tax for the city.

"If the city were to exempt itself from the 5 percent tax, there would be no tax at all in the city," said the opinion, written by County Attorney Judson P. Garrett Jr. and Patricia A. Logan, senior assistant county attorney.

If the council had attempted to set a separate tax rate for the city, that would have violated the state constitution, which prohibits the state -- and therefore, the county, which gets its taxing authority from the state -- from enacting laws that dictate the affairs in an individual municipality.

"If the General Assembly can't do it, then how can we, in essence, craft legislation that would single out the city of Annapolis," said Deputy County Attorney David A. Plymyer.

County lawyers left an out for Annapolis. State law allows municipalities to enact user fees for the docking and storage of boats up to a limit of 5 percent of the rental charge. Enacting the user fee, combined with the 5 percent slip tax, would keep city revenues intact.

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