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Carroll County commissioners delay tax sale, approve grant program for small businesses hurt amid coronavirus

Carroll County’s commissioners voted this week to approve postponing the annual tax sale and creating a grant program for small businesses to ease the financial hardship some have experienced as the coronavirus has forced much economic activity to a halt.

Carroll County residents with unpaid tax accounts as of April 1 will be mailed “second notice” bills, but penalties will be frozen as of March 31, a county news release states. Interest will continue to accrue monthly on past-due property taxes.

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With five thumbs up, the board voted Tuesday after Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, raised the subject. He expressed concern over the people facing financial crisis during the pandemic of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

“People are in tough shape and it’s going to get tougher,” he said.

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That doesn’t mean people will be able to avoid paying taxes, though.

By freezing penalties, the county could lose “tens of thousands” of dollars, county Comptroller Robert Burk estimated, but taxes will still be due. He said the loss will not be significant to the budget.

Meeting via live video conference, the commissioners unanimously voted “aye” to postpone the tax sale by giving a thumbs up.

Wantz had argued the commissioners should vote to help the group of about 2,000 residents who had yet to pay tax bills — just as the board voted separately to help local businesses.

Earlier in the same meeting, the commissioners unanimously voted to offer grants to small businesses in the county. The county’s Department of Economic Development and Burk discovered an unused small business loan fund of more than $800,000 within its budget and offered it as a way to help businesses.

“We just took a major step to help our small business folks without a whole lot of debate,” Wantz said. “I love small business, but I also love my citizens.”

Jack Lyburn, county director of economic development, suggested developing a one-page application for businesses and awarding up to $2,000 per applicant.

Commissioner Ed Rothstein, R-District 5, who had urged the county to look into assisting small businesses the week prior, on Tuesday suggested offering grants between $1,000 and $1,500. Lyburn requested the board settle on one number.

The commissioners passed grants of up to $1,250 per business. Up to $500,000 of the small business loan fund will be used.

The Carroll County Industrial Development Authority will disperse the grants for the county, which will vet applications and provide guidance to the IDA. Carroll County cannot award the money itself because it is a commission form of government.

The Department of Economic Development will work with the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce, business associations and municipalities to ensure all small businesses are aware of the opportunity, Rothstein said in an interview. More details about how to apply, eligibility and what the grants can be used for exactly are forthcoming, he said.

How to pay taxes

Tax payments are accepted online at https://paybill.carrollcountymd.gov, or via U.S. mail or a drop box located at the County Office Building, at 225 N. Center St., Westminster, MD 21157. The drop box is located in lower parking lot "A" across from electric vehicle charging stations. Personal and business checks will be accepted.

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Those experiencing financial difficulty may request a monthly payment plan via mail or by emailing Collections@carrollcountymd.gov. The Collections Office can be reached by calling 410-386-2971.

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