Council tables swim club tax credit bill until July 28

The County Council tabled a controversial bill Tuesday, July 5 that would have provided a property tax credit for nonprofit swim clubs, but the bill's sponsor said she expects a vote before the council's August recess.

"I have been promised that we will vote on this bill July 28 one way or another," Ellicott City Democrat Courtney Watson said.

Representatives from the six eligible nonprofit swim clubs had lobbied for the tax credit, arguing that they provide recreational outlets not offered by Howard County, which operates only one public pool. They say their cash-strapped clubs need the money to help with much-needed capital improvements.

One of the complicated issues with the swim club bill, Watson said, is the different way pools in the county are assessed.

Columbia Association pools are assessed at a lower rate than the county's six nonprofit swim clubs because of the different developmental values of the land.

CA pools sit on land designated as open space, which cannot be developed. Nonprofit pools are assessed at a higher rate because their property could be sold and developed.

Homeowner Association pools, meanwhile, are not separately assessed because they are assumed in the value of the community.

As introduced, Watson's bill, which was co-sponsored by Fulton Republican Greg Fox, would have given nonprofits organized exclusively as swim clubs a 100 percent property tax credit.

Before tabling the bill, council members unanimously voted to take out the wording that said "organized exclusively as a swim club" and insert wording that mirrors the state enabling law, passed by the General Assembly in 2006. The state law says the tax credit can only go to a nonprofit "that uses its facility exclusively to provide a recreational outlet for a local community."

When CA officials learned about the bill, they said their nonprofit, which operates other facilities besides its pools, should also get the credit. But county attorneys, based on advice they obtained from the state, say that's not legally possible because of the wording in the state law.

During discussions about how to make the bill more equitable, Watson said she was going to amend the bill to grant the six eligible nonprofit clubs a tax credit worth the percentage difference between the average assessment rate for their pools and the average assessment rate for CA's 23 outdoor pools.

But that may not be the solution the council presents July 28.

"I think it might wind up being a package of things we can do for them," Columbia Democrat Jen Terrasa said, noting that the swim clubs need more financial assistance than a tax credit can provide.

After the meeting, swim club representatives said they are confident the bill will pass on July 28.

"I have 100 percent confidence that they will vote positively to enact the legislation," said Greg Dahle, vice president of administration at North Saint John's Swim and Tennis Club in Ellicott City. Dahle was the person who requested Watson introduce the bill.

At the same meeting, the council unanimously voted to amend the county's zoning regulations with updated parking requirements for funeral homes.

"It's important to update what were very outdated regulations and recognize the changing ways funeral homes operate," said Fox, who co-sponsored the bill with Columbia Democrat Mary Kay Sigaty.

The bill changes the parking requirements from 10 spaces per public viewing room to 1 space per 50 square feet of floor area in public rooms, which in addition to viewing rooms also include chapels and reception rooms. The regulations were last updated in 1972.

The need for the bill arose because of Jay Donaldson's proposal to build a large funeral home on slightly more than three acres of residential land off Route 108 in Clarksville. The county hearing examiner denied the proposal, but Donaldson and his attorney Sang Oh have appealed the decision to the county Board of Appeals, where a hearing date has yet to be scheduled.

Because the council has passed changes to the zoning law regarding funeral home parking, Donaldson will have to amend his proposal to comply with the new regulations.

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