Tax break idea gains in council

January 24, 1995|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,Sun Staff Writer

Tax breaks intended to lure high-technology companies to Howard County appeared to gain the support of the County Council during a legislative work session last night.

New and existing high-technology companies engaged in research and development would receive a 75 percent property tax credit for new equipment purchases under the proposal.

None of the five council members raised any serious questions or criticism of the idea, which will be voted on Feb. 6.

The tax credit would be similar to those used in Montgomery and Prince George's counties, said Richard W. Story, executive director of the county Economic Development Authority.

"This would level the competitive playing field," Mr. Story said. "This would generate a benefit for existing companies that are looking to expand . . . and new companies that are exploring a location in the [Baltimore-Washington] corridor would choose to come to Howard County instead of just going to the Prince George's side of the [county] line."

Of Howard's 5,500 existing companies, county officials estimate that 94 would qualify for property tax credits for new equipment purchases. They also predict that the loss in revenue caused by the tax credit would be more than offset in the long run by the new businesses that would be attracted to the county.

Companies seeking to obtain the tax break would apply to the state when filing year-end tax returns. The state is expected to set up a process to determine which companies are eligible for Howard's tax break and similar ones offered by neighboring counties.

In other business, the county's effort to build an 18-hole regulation golf course took another step forward as council members were shown final figures on the $10.7 million in revenue bonds needed to finance it.

The council is scheduled to vote Feb. 6 on authorizing the sale of the bonds, and again in early March to approve whatever interest rate is negotiated on them.

Some members previously had raised questions about whether the county should guarantee the payment of the bonds to obtain a lower interest rate, but now appear convinced that the project should be approved because the revenue projections are realistic.

If approved, the first nine holes of the golf course -- to be located near Interstate 95 and Route 100 -- are expected to be open by July 1996, and the entire course would be completed about a year later.

The council also began discussions of the effects of the 1992 adequate public facilities law on new growth in the county. The law was designed to limit new development to what existing roads and schools could accommodate.

The biggest question considered by the council was how changes in school enrollment might affect developers who already had begun plans to construct new projects.

For instance, an increased birth rate in the area around Deep Run Elementary School in Elkridge has delayed the construction of a townhouse development that had been given the go-ahead by the county.

It was not immediately apparent whether or how the council might change the existing law. But Joseph W. Rutter, Howard's director of planning of zoning, told the council that although developers might be delayed in the short-term, their projects eventually would be permitted to go forward.

The council also continued discussions on changing the county's zoning procedures to bring them in line with a charter amendment approved by the voters in November. Members said they hoped they could adapt an existing bill to satisfy the intent of the authors of the amendment, which was called Question B on the ballot.

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