Council to get bill to end tax 2 golf courses must charge

Private clubs are targeted unfairly, Kittleman says

Howard County

March 31, 2004|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Efforts to help those at both ends of Howard County's economic spectrum - from golf course owners to a hot dog vendor near the landfill - are reflected in a pair of bills submitted for County Council introduction April 7.

A third measure would shift surplus school construction funds to speed completion of the new northern high school in Marriottsville - which is ahead of schedule - and pay for modular classrooms to begin all-day kindergarten next year.

The golf course tax relief is being sought by western county Republican Allan H. Kittleman, who wants to remove the county's 7.5 percent amusement tax from two private courses slowly over five years. That would cost the county treasury up to $309,000 a year in revenue, but Kittleman said he is "doing it because of the fairness issue."

Willow Springs and Waverly Woods golf courses - both along Interstate 70 in Kittleman's district - are the only ones burdened with the tax, which puts them at a competitive disadvantage, he said.

The county-owned Timbers of Troy course in Elkridge is exempt, as are courses owned by the private, nonprofit Columbia Association. Those who buy country club memberships that include golf privileges - such as members at Turf Valley or Cattail Creek - are also exempt, though guest players at those clubs are not, he said.

"To me, if you're going to compete with me, you should at least compete fairly," Kittleman said. Phasing out the tax over time would lessen the impact on the county budget, he said.

Tom Healey, managing partner of Waverly Woods, said he would cut rates for golfers if the tax is removed - a savings of $5 a round.

"It's not a matter of the money going in our pockets," he said. "This bill is for the benefit of the golfers, not the golf course owners."

Thomas C. Beach, managing partner of Willow Springs, said that golfers do not see the specific tax on their receipts, but the expense "comes out of our pocket. The tax makes us unable to compete with Timbers of Troy."

But County Executive James N. Robey bristled yesterday at comparing county-owned facilities to for-profit golf courses.

"We're not in it to make money," he said, rejecting Kittleman's fairness argument, and adding that he is not likely to support the idea.

Donald Dunn, a member at Waverly Woods and an advocate for public golf courses, said the tax does not figure in his and his friends' decisions about where to play.

"It's the overall cost vs. the quality of the course. The tax is a nonevent as far as we're concerned," he said, explaining that each course offers a different playing experience.

County Council Chairman Guy Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat, said he has not studied the bill but that the revenue loss "has to be taken in the context of the overall budget. The more places you take revenue from, you have to make it up somewhere else."

Kittleman's other bill attempts to carve a niche for a popular western county hot dog vendor out of a new law prohibiting roadside vendors.

Kittleman opposed passage of the new law, which was approved on a 3-2 party-line vote in February. It is to take effect Sunday.

The councilman's proposal would allow vendors in areas where the speed limit is 45 mph or lower, where the vendor is at least 8 feet from the driving lane and where county police see no danger - criteria that might allow Steve Waters, who sells hot dogs from a cart outside the Alpha Ridge Landfill entrance on Marriottsville Road, to stay in business.

"He is certainly the person who comes to mind," Kittleman said, arguing that the changes would not affect other vendors who are a safety hazard.

The original bill was prompted by complaints about a noisy snowball truck that parked along the street outside Dorsey Search Village Center.

Meanwhile, the school construction resolution would move $3 million from a series of projects to speed work on the $53 million northern high school, which is due to open in August 2005, across from Mount View Middle School. It would also provide $1 million to buy modular classrooms for the county's first all-day kindergarten program planned for seven schools next year.

The transfer amounts to a loan until the new fiscal year starts July 1, when the money would be returned.

"We need to make sure we're utilizing every bit of our capital dollars," Guzzone said. "These are projects that are closed or on the verge of being closed with excess dollars in them."

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