EnterTRAINment chief to press on for tax-bill exemption

March 24, 1995|By Kerry O'Rourke and Amy L. Miller | Kerry O'Rourke and Amy L. Miller,Sun Staff Writers

The EnterTRAINment Line president said yesterday he will continue to fight for an exemption from a tax bill totaling more than $300,000 despite rejection from a Senate committee.

"We need some fairness," said Donald S. Golec, president of the Union Bridge-based railroad.

"I am disappointed in the outcome of the Budget and Taxation Committee. We expected them to realize the special federal protection given to rail carriers," he said.

The Senate committee voted 8-5 Wednesday night to kill a bill to exempt excursion trains from admission and amusement taxes. The measure, sponsored by Carroll Sen. Larry E. Haines, a Westminster Republican, would have absolved the EnterTRAINment Line from paying $329,057 it owes for the period Aug. 1, 1989, to Sept. 30, 1991.

Mr. Haines said the company is a transportation, not an entertainment, business.

Mr. Golec, one of the train line's five owners, said the company will fight the tax bill in Maryland Tax Court at a hearing April 19.

If the company loses, it cannot afford an appeal, he said, and paying the back taxes would cause the EnterTRAINment Line to close.

At a hearing in Annapolis last week, Steven Hamilton, one of the line's owners, said the company would move the passenger service to another state if the legislation was not approved by the General Assembly.

Mr. Golec, Mr. Hamilton and other owners bought the EnterTRAINment Line two years ago. Mr. Golec said state tax officials told him there were no outstanding tax bills before he purchased the business.

The train line owes the taxes to Union Bridge and Westminster, where it picks up passengers. The amusement and admissions taxes are charged locally and collected by the state.

The railway offers rides with dancing, music and dinner for adults, "Murder Mystery" rides and holiday trips for children.

It runs on Maryland Midland Railway's tracks.

Mr. Golec said the EnterTRAINment line should be exempted from the taxes because the company is governed by federal regulations, which limit the taxes states may impose on railroads.

The company is not trying to avoid paying taxes, he said. It pays property, sales and payroll taxes for 50 employees, he said.

The EnterTRAINment Line attracts about 40,000 customers per year and generates annual revenues of about $1 million. Operating costs also are about $1 million, the owners said.

Company officials have argued that the taxes are discriminatory because theirs is the only Maryland train line subject to them.

Other rail lines, such as Western Maryland Scenic Railroad in Cumberland, either are exempted by local jurisdictions or are nonprofit organizations that receive state and county grants.

Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, the Baltimore Democrat who chairs the Budget and Taxation Committee, said at last week's hearing that she was reluctant to get involved in what she called a dispute better suited for tax court.

"The committee has a real problem interposing itself into a matter now pending before the tax court," Ms. Hoffman said. "It's a slippery slope one starts sliding down when profit-making enterprises don't want to pay taxes."

Yesterday, Mr. Haines said his effort to get the bill out of committee was a close one. "Two more [votes] and we would have made it."

He said the senators who voted for the proposal are F. Vernon Boozer, a Baltimore County Republican; Patrick J. Hogan, a Montgomery County Republican; Edward J. Kasemeyer, a Democrat who represents Baltimore and Howard counties; Thomas M. Middleton, a Charles County Democrat; and Donald F. Munson, a Washington County Republican.

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