Tax cut proposed for farm activities

Move to encourage local agriculture

January 06, 2002|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

The Robey administration plans to introduce legislation tomorrow night to reduce the amusement tax on farm-related activities - part of a larger effort to encourage farmers to stay in business.

The bill would reduce the amusement tax from 7.5 percent to 5 percent for activities on a working farm that are open to the public, or to invited groups for purposes of education, recreation or involvement in farm operations. It covers services such as hay rides, corn mazes, farm tours and picnic-party facilities offered in conjunction with those activities.

At Cider Mill Farm in Ellicott City, manager Cheryl Nodar welcomed the legislation. "It's a huge burden for us," she said. "It's the biggest tax we pay. Any kind of reduction would be so helpful."

With expensive new housing developments popping up all over the Howard County landscape, the county is trying to preserve as much rural land as possible - especially since state officials are pressuring the county to do more in this regard.

Baltimore and Montgomery counties enacted restrictive rural zoning years ago to allow no more than one house per 20 or 50 acres, but Howard never did.

Even though the bill would reduce county revenue by less than $10,000 a year, county officials hope the tax cut, in addition to other measures, will help farmers.

"By reducing this tax, we hope to offer yet another encouraging reason for further development of the agriculture industry here in Howard County," County Executive James N. Robey said.

Flexible zoning

The council recently enacted changes in zoning laws that allow farmers more flexibility in using rural land for agriculture-related businesses - such as pick-your-own-produce farms and roadside food stands.

The tax proposal came from Ginger Meyers, who works at the Howard County Economic Development Commission, said Denise Sharp, co-owner of Waterford Farm in Brookeville.

"Eliminating [the tax] altogether would be absolutely wonderful," Sharp said. It would save money and several days of paperwork each year. But the reduction would help too, she added.

Richard Story, the commission's chief executive officer, said "reducing the amount of admissions taxes our farmers pay will help them be more competitive in the growing agri-tourism field."

`It all helps'

Properties such as Cider Mill Farm, Larriland Farm in Woodbine, Nixon's Farm in West Friendship and perhaps Circle D Farm in Glenwood might qualify, depending on what activities they offer.

"Anything is a help. It all helps," said Laurence "Larry" Moore, whose family owns Larriland Farm.

"They maybe shouldn't have had it [the tax] as high as it was," he said.

Moore speculated that officials might eventually raise the tax again. Taxes, he said, are something government officials find hard to resist. "For politicians, it's like food," he said with a laugh.

County Councilman Allan H. Kittleman, a western county Republican whose district contains most of the farms that offer recreation, said he favors the bill.

"I fully support this idea," Kittleman said. "If we can reduce taxes and encourage economic development, that's great."

County Budget Director Raymond S. Wacks said that although the state collects the amusement tax, the money goes to the county - minus a small administrative fee. The county also has the power to lower the tax without state approval.

The bill will be voted on Feb. 4, after a public hearing Jan. 22.

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