Charles County Com­mis­sion­ers mull ex­emp­tion for trans­fer tax

County Com­mis­sion­ers talk about first time home owner trans­fer tax ex­emp­tion ahead of May 10 meet­ing

Maryland Independent - - News - By MICHAEL SYKES II msykes@somd­ Twit­ter: @SykesIndyNews

The county’s real prop­erty trans­fer tax has been and con­tin­ues to be a hot-but­ton is­sue for the Charles County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers. Dur­ing last week’s board of com­mis­sioner meet­ings, the board in­tro­duced two amend­ments to the trans­fer tax bill.

One amend­ment re­moved a first time home buyer ex­emp­tion and the other changed where the trans­fer tax money is paid to, as­so­ciate county at­tor­ney Adam Storch said.

The county’s real prop­erty trans­fer tax, which is set at 0.5 per­cent, is ap­plied to Charles County res­i­dents when real prop­erty is trans­ferred, such as mort­gages, land or some build­ings.

Rather than be­ing paid to the Clerk of the Cir­cuit Court in the county, the tax will be paid to the county trea­surer in or­der to keep more tax pro­ceeds in Charles County, Storch said. The rev­enues will go into the county’s gen­eral fund.

But County Com­mis­sion­ers’ Vice Pres­i­dent De­bra Davis (D) said she wants to in­clude some­thing for first time home buy­ers.

“I be­lieve it was our in­ten­tion to move for­ward with an ex­emp­tion for first time home buy­ers. Be­cause there was a prob­lem with the way it was writ­ten, it was kicked out by the court,” Davis said. “This is our op­por­tu­nity, I be­lieve, to move for­ward and cor­rect that mis­take and to make this ex­emp­tion for first time home buy­ers ap­pro­pri­ate.”

Last year, the county was tied in lit­i­ga­tion with Gary French and Holly Dun­bar of Fort Washington deal­ing with the trans­fer tax. French and Dun­bar’s law­suit claimed the county over­stepped its bound­aries by pro­vid­ing first time home buy­ers an ex­emp­tion and the county’s cir­cuit court ruled in their fa­vor.

County At­tor­ney Rhonda Weaver said manda­tory ex­emp­tions are al­lowed with the bill, but the county could not cre­ate a par­tial ex­emp­tion ac­cord­ing to the cir­cuit court. The first time home buyer ex­emp­tion was par­tial, she said.

“It has to be a com­plete ex­emp­tion, and the ex­emp­tion in the orig­i­nal lo­cal bill was a par­tial ex­emp­tion,” Weaver said.

Weaver said the first time home buyer ex­emp­tion would need to come un­der Sec­tion 13-409 in the state’s tax ar­ti­cle which states the county could pro­vide an ex­emp­tion for those who have never owned state real prop­erty and were never the prin­ci­ple own­ers in a piece of real prop­erty in the state.

“That is a sim­pli­fied re­sponse,” Weaver said. “There were a cou­ple of prob­lems with the lan­guage, but the first time home buyer would have come un­der 13-409.”

Com­mis­sioner Bobby Rucci (D) said he re­mem­bers the county used to of­fer first time home buyer ex­emp­tions be­fore and would be in­ter­ested in find­ing a way to grant the ex­emp­tion again “the way it was be­fore.”

“We’ve al­ways had a first time home­buyer in Charles County and it changed when we did that res­o­lu­tion be­fore. And we never straight­ened it out,” Rucci said.

Com­mis­sion­ers’ Pres­i­dent Peter Mur­phy (D) said, at this point, the bill is just be­ing in­tro­duced and amend­ments, in the mean­time, can be pro­vided.

“What we’re do­ing now is just get­ting this on the cal­en­dar so what we would do is bring this piece of leg­is­la­tion back and make amend­ments to it,” Mur­phy said. “That’s when we have this con­ver­sa­tion.”

County Com­mis­sioner Ken Robin­son (D) said the leg­isla­tive process al­lows for amend­ments to the bill between now and May 10, when the public hear­ing is sched­uled for the bill.

There is “am­ple time” between now and then, Robin­son said, to do re­search on the bill and en­sure any fu­ture amend­ments meet the stan­dards of the state and county law.

Mur­phy said if any com­mis­sion­ers come up with amend­ments, not just for the trans­fer tax, but for any piece of leg­is­la­tion, it would be best for com­mis­sion­ers to present the amend­ments to the county staff be­fore­hand.

“That way we’re all ready to have a more ro­bust, and I think, com­plete dis­cus­sion,” Mur­phy said.

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