In January, the Town Council wrote the governor, saying it supported"in principal" a loan package that would assist development of a business park in town.
On Monday, the council apparently changed its mind.
In a surprise vote during a closed session, the council killed a measure to create a special tax district, which would have paved the way for a $1.5 million state-county loan package for the proposed Raincliffe Center.
The reversal stunned the developer, Security Enterprises Inc., which promptly requested the council to de-annex the 32 acres at Route 32 and Raincliffe Road where the industrial-retail park is planned.
The vote also shocked and angered council members and town officials.
"It's an outrage," Mayor Lloyd R. Helt Jr. said yesterday. "It will cost the citizens thousands of dollars." The council's vote -- a 3-3 tie -- killed the proposal. Council President Charles B. Mullins, and council members Charles H. "Tim" Ferguson and Maxine C. Wooleyhand opposed the measure. Kenneth Clark, Eugene Johnsonand Wiley Purkey voted in favor.
The vote also re-ignited infighting on the polarized council, and prompted a livid Helt to charge that Mullins engineered the vote to protect his own business interests in town. Mullins denied the accusation.
"It would keep my taxes down," Mullins said of the park. "It would benefit me greatly to see it go, but I have principles that tell me it's not right to put the rest of the citizens in jeopardy."
David W. Moxley, of Security Enterprises, based in Ellicott City, Howard County, asked the council last December to establish the tax district required for eligibility for the state and county loans.
Ferguson, Mullins and Wooleyhand expressed apprehension, because the town would administer the loan and thus assume liability. However, state and county officials briefed thecouncil and said the risk was low when compared to the potential gains.
The park was projected to increase the town's tax base by 25 percent, and bring in some $75,000 in new revenue over the next two years.
But Ferguson said the three council members voted against theproposal Monday because the developer offer of a personal guarantee on the loan wasn't sufficient security.
"(The developer) didn't put up any tangible collateral -- real estate," he said, to protect thetown in event of default on the loan. "We acted just like a bank. They want something from us, we want something from them."
Mullins, noting his fiscal conservatism, sided with Ferguson, saying the personal guarantee "wasn't worth a darn -- there are ways of getting around that liability for it."
The mayor disagreed.
"Therewas absolutely no risk to this," Helt said. "We've made these peoplepromises and we haven't kept them."
An equally angry Clark said bluntly that residents can expect a sizable increase in taxes next year just to cover minimum services, since projected revenue from thepark appear to be lost.
Neither Helt nor Schumacher could predict the results of a vote on de-annexation, but the mayor said he didn't see how the town could refuse the request.
Robert Merbler, of Security Enterprises, said that despite the setback, he still hoped to work out something with the town, even if it requires a change in financing.