Council appears to favor incentives for company GTS Duratek seeks new headquarters

September 24, 1996|By Craig Timberg | Craig Timberg,SUN STAFF

The Howard County Council moved last night toward approving a $250,000 package of economic incentives to help a Columbia-based environmental company build a new headquarters -- even though a competitor says the deal is unfair.

GTS Duratek on Guilford Road in Columbia turns radioactive and other hazardous wastes into glass pellets.

GTS Duratek has about 150 employees, including 83 in Columbia. The average wage is $46,000 a year, said Richard Story, executive director of the county Economic Development Authority.

To keep the company in the area, state and county officials have put together the incentives to help the company build a 35,000 square-foot corporate headquarters on Old Columbia Road.

The package includes $225,000 from the state and -- if the council approves the deal -- $25,000 from the county.

The money is a loan, but if GTS Duratek creates 42 jobs in the next three years, the money will become a grant. As part of the deal, the county also must guarantee repayment of the loan to the state in the case of forfeiture by the company.

At a public hearing last week, Dwight Emerson, president of Analytical Services, a competitor also based in Columbia, said the deal was unwise and unfair and that GTS Duratek didn't need the money.

Emerson called the aid package "corporate welfare at its worst."

At last night's council work session, several council members sympathized with Emerson.

Council Chairman Darrel E. Drown, an Ellicott City Republican, said he favors lowering taxes instead of giving aid packages to individual companies, which he said can be unfair to competitors.

"Some bureaucrat made a decision that this company [GTS Duratek] is worth it and that [Analytical Services] is not," Drown said. "That leaves me a little suspect."

But after the meeting, a strong majority of council members, including Drown, said they favor the deal.

"If we don't get the money, it goes to another county," Drown said.

Also last night, administration officials complained about a proposal by Drown to allow taxpayers to donate money to the school system.

Drown has argued that the plan makes sense because some citizens argue for raising taxes to better fund schools. The voluntary system would allow those people to give more money without requiring others to do the same, he said.

County finance officials said Baltimore County has a similar program that has brought in only $28,000 in 10 years.

Based on that, Howard finance director Dale Neubert projected that Howard County could make $800 a year, just a few hundred dollars more than the $435 it would cost the county to implement the program.

In addition, Neubert said, the donation program in Baltimore County prompts many taxpayers to reply with profanity-laced letters of protest. "They seem to react as, 'How dare you even ask us to pay more?' " he said.

Councilman C. Vernon Gray, an East Columbia Democrat, said of Drown's plan: "The juice ain't worth the squeeze on this program."

Pub Date: 9/24/96

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