State lists en­ter­prise zone for Eas­ton

Sunday Star - - FRONT PAGE - By JOSH BOLLINGER jbollinger@star­dem.com

EAS­TON — Town and county of­fi­cials are try­ing to re­vi­tal­ize one of the poorer ar­eas of Eas­ton us­ing a state-spon­sored tax credit in­cen­tive meant to draw busi­nesses and jobs.

Through the pro­gram, busi­nesses that come to the new en­ter­prise zone in Eas­ton, cre­ate jobs and make cap­i­tal in­vest­ments can ben­e­fit from real prop­erty and state in­come tax cred­its.

“The new en­ter­prise zone will fos­ter gov­ern­ment and cit­i­zen col­lab­o­ra­tion for two

ma­jor rede­vel­op­ment pri­or­ity ar­eas for the Town of Eas­ton — Port Street and the hos­pi­tal site — set­ting the stage for cap­i­tal in­vest­ments and jobs for our com­mu­nity,” Eas­ton Mayor Bob Wil­ley said. “The en­ter­prise zone will be a key in­cen­tive for busi­nesses to grow and at­tract jobs to a much-needed part of town.”

The en­ter­prise zone cov­ers 90 acres and sev­eral large, va­cant build­ings from Port Street to Wash­ing­ton Street and down Wash­ing­ton Street to the area of the hos­pi­tal, which is slated for rede­vel­op­ment once the hos­pi­tal moves just north of Eas­ton. It’s the first en­ter­prise zone for Tal­bot County since the pro­gram started in 1982. It only cov­ers busi­ness prop­er­ties and does not in­clude res­i­den­tial prop­er­ties.

Eas­ton Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Cor­po­ra­tion Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Tracy Ward said there are two sce­nar­ios in which the tax credit would kick in.

One is a real prop­erty tax credit. When a prop­erty owner makes an in­vest­ment in their lot, the en­ter­prise zone en­ables the busi­ness to ap­ply for an 80 per­cent credit for the first five years on that in­vest­ment. The state then re­im­burses the county or town at 50 per­cent.

The other tax credit kicks in when a busi­ness makes new hires.

De­spite get­ting a tax break, the in­vest­ments still are adding a new tax base, mak­ing it a “good deal for the town and county, and it’s also a good deal for the state,” Ward said.

“It’s re­ally a pro­gram that brings all the par­ties to the ta­ble. It re­quires busi­ness in­vest­ment, it pro­tects cit­i­zens be­cause the tax base is grow­ing,” Ward said. “The town and county and the state are ba­si­cally rec­og­niz­ing that busi­nesses need in­cen­tives to do ex­pan­sions or to come into cer­tain com­mu­ni­ties, and this par­tic­u­lar com­mu­nity ... has a very high poverty rate.”

Ward said a lot of peo­ple who live in the neigh­bor­hood of the en­ter­prise zone are work­ing full time, but they have low wages, which is why “that par­tic­u­lar cen­sus tract was de­serv­ing to be an en­ter­prise zone,” she said.

The en­ter­prise zone was built around Cen­sus Tract 9603 on Port and Wash­ing­ton streets.

Ac­cord­ing to the Cen­sus Bu­reau, Tal­bot County’s me­dian house­hold in­come in $58,228, and Eas­ton’s me­dian house­hold in­come is $50,496. But in the en­ter­prise zone, the me­dian house­hold in­come is $35,578, and more than 21 per­cent of the res­i­dents make be­tween $15,000 and $24,900.

Ac­cord­ing to the Cen­sus Bu­reau, 18 per­cent of peo­ple liv­ing in Cen­sus Tract 9603 are below the poverty level, and al­most 27 per­cent of fam­i­lies with chil­dren younger than 18 are below the poverty level.

“There’s some­thing about that con­cen­tra­tion of poverty that’s par­tic­u­larly chal­leng­ing, I think, for any­one to ad­dress, and so the way that we’re go­ing to try to ad­dress it is by grow­ing the com­mer­cial econ­omy there so that we can cre­ate jobs, good pay­ing jobs,” Ward said.

While noth­ing is lined up at the mo­ment, Ward said there might be a cou­ple projects that are start­ing to emerge for that area that would bring “good mid­dle-in­come jobs.”

The town plans to use the en­ter­prise zone to strengthen cur­rent rede­vel­op­ment in town. While the hos­pi­tal rede­vel­op­ment is years out, town of­fi­cials are in the midst of fig­ur­ing out what to do with Port Street and how to move for­ward re­de­vel­op­ing it, while main­tain­ing sen­si­tiv­ity to those who live there so they are not forced to leave their homes.

The county and town col­lab­o­rated on the ap­pli­ca­tion process, and both coun­cils sub­mit­ted res­o­lu­tions sup­port­ing the en­ter­prise zone.

“The Tal­bot County Coun­cil is pleased to join with the Town of Eas­ton in re­ceiv­ing this des­ig­na­tion, know­ing that it will pro­vide tax cred­its that will grow jobs, re­tain and at­tract busi­nesses,” County Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Jen­nifer Wil­liams said.

The Mary­land De­part­ment of Com­merce ap­proves the state’s en­ter­prise zones, while lo­cal gov­ern­ments are re­spon­si­ble for their ad­min­is­tra­tion. Ward said the pro­gram is in ef­fect lo­cally and they can start pro­cess­ing ap­pli­ca­tions im­me­di­ately.

Busi­nesses lo­cated in the state’s 31 en­ter­prise zones have re­ceived roughly $45 mil­lion in prop­erty tax cred­its in fis­cal year 2018, based on more than $3 bil­lion in cap­i­tal in­vest­ments made in fis­cal year 2017. Dur­ing the past five years, busi­nesses in Mary­land’s en­ter­prise zones have made a to­tal of $13.5 bil­lion in cap­i­tal in­vest­ments.

Other des­ig­na­tions, re­des­ig­na­tions and ex­pan­sions in­cluded parts of Anne Arun­del, Ce­cil, Gar­rett and Mont­gomer y coun­ties.

“I am pleased to des­ig­nate sev­eral new en­ter­prise zones around the state and re­new the state’s com­mit­ment to other zones,” Mary­land Com­merce Sec­re­tary Mike Gill said. “This pro­gram gen­er­ates op­por­tu­ni­ties in ev­ery cor­ner of Mary­land by fostering a cli­mate of busi­ness growth, job cre­ation and eco­nomic pros­per­ity.”

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