Three Counties To Receive State Funds For Open Spaces

During the evening on Sine Die, the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 273, which provides State funding for counties with large amounts of tax-exempt State forests, parks, and wildlife management areas, beginning in fiscal 2019 – a bill MACo avidly supported. As frequently is the case, there is a caveat:

The House amended the bill on Sine Die to further restrict funding to counties which either have at least 65,000 acres of qualifying State-owned land, or 40,000 acres and have a county property tax rate of at least one dollar per $100 of assessed value: namely, Allegany, Garrett, and Somerset. 

SB 273 establishes an Open Space Incentive Program which, as originally introduced, would have provided counties an annual payment of $250,000 for every 10,000 acres attributed to State forests, State parks, and wildlife management areas. As amended in the Senate, however, it would have required the state to only pay those counties with at least 40,000 acres of qualifying open space (Allegany, Dorchester, Garrett, Somerset, and Worcester), and pay them the equivalent of property taxes for the land. The payments are allocated through an analog to a Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) program, in fairly wide use across Maryland. Beginning in Fiscal 2019, the State would pay the qualifying counties the amount they would receive in property taxes if the land were not government-owned.

As passed, according the fiscal note, the bill provides the following counties the listed estimated annual payments, beginning in fiscal 2019:

  • Allegany: $820,680
  • Garrett: $1,158,300
  • Somerset: $490,000

In addition, Worcester and Dorchester would receive funds if they raised their property tax rates to at least one dollar per $100 of assessed value.

Governor Larry Hogan supported the bill and is anticipated to sign it.