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Aberdeen leaders continue to wish for Harford lodging tax

Aberdeen city officials say they eventually hope to see enough revenue come in from a lodging tax on the more than 1,200 hotel rooms in their city to cover maintenance of Ripken Stadium and give property owners a 2-cent reduction in their property taxes.

But to capture that revenue, the city needs the legal authority to collect the tax, something that has eluded Aberdeen for more than two decades.

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Their frustrations finally may be coming to end. Last winter, Harford County state legislators succeeded in tacking the taxing authority on to state's budget legislation approved by the Maryland General Assembly in April. Although the state attorney general later questioned the legally of that tactic, he did not take any action to prevent the new local taxing authority from taking effect.

The next step is up to the county government's elected officials.

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"We do have an aging stadium, which, if we do not get a new source of income, we are going to have to pay for it out of our tax dollars," Aberdeen City Manager Doug said Monday.

Ripken Stadium, home of the Aberdeen IronBirds minor league baseball team, opened in 2002. Miller said the city allocates at least $260,000 in its general fund for the stadium, and he anticipates some expensive maintenance issues, such as a new roof and HVAC system, will need to be funded.

"We do have some big-money maintenance items that we have to take care of for that stadium, not unlike your home," Miller said, after discussing the lodging tax prospects during an afternoon work session with Mayor Mike Bennett and the city council.

Incoming county executive Barry Glassman and the new county council must still approve a framework to impose and collect the tax, the city manager said.

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"We should be able to raise enough money to take care of the needs of our stadium and then also lower the tax rate by at least 2 cents," Miller added.

"Now, because Harford County does have that authority, it's now up to the new county executive and the new County Council to, if they wish to, create a framework to impose and collect a hotel tax," Miller said.

Glassman, who takes office Dec. 1, has not yet committed to the room tax, even though he was a state senator when the local authorization passed in Annapolis last winter.

"I can't say whether it's a go or not, but we're certainly looking at it with the other parties that are interested," he said Monday.

County officials must work with leaders of the Bel Air, Aberdeen and Havre de Grace municipal governments, as well as local tourism groups, to determine how the revenue from any room tax would be allocated in the county and among the various entities, Glassman explained.

Ultimately, the county council will have to approve any new tax. The seven-member council, which also takes office Dec. 1, will have three new members. Like Glassman, all seven are Republicans.

Aberdeen's Bennett said about 42 percent of the roughly 2,700 hotel rooms in Harford are in Aberdeen.

Bennett said there are 1,126 hotel rooms in the city, and he anticipates there will be about 1,316 rooms available once the La Quinta Inn is converted into a Hampton Inn and two new hotels that are planned are built.

The mayor declined to give a solid number on the revenue that could be allocated to the city, although he noted the rooms are rented at an average cost of $90 per day.

Bennett said the room tax would not only support Aberdeen through visitors drawn by IronBirds games, as well as multiple youth baseball tournaments, but other locations in the county as those visitors take day trips to surrounding areas.

"We have to make sure it not only applies to Aberdeen but also to the other two municipalities," he said.

Councilwoman Sandra Landbeck said support from city residents is needed in the push for implementing the room tax, since they could one day see a reduction in their property taxes.

"They need to hear over and over again, that if we get that, they will benefit," she said.

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