CHESTERTOWN — A proposal to offer tax credits for state-mandated fire-suppression sprinkler systems was hailed as a development incentive by a local real estate agent at a public hearing Tuesday, Jan. 7, while a resident who built a new home last year hoped it could be applied retroactively.

The Kent County Commissioners held a public hearing on a bill that would provide property tax credits to help offset the costs of required sprinkler systems in new homes. The tax credit is applicable for primary residences built between Jan. 1, 2020 and Dec. 31, 2023.

The credit to be issued would be the lesser of the total cost of the sprinkler system or $5,000. The amount may not exceed the property taxes owed in a single year. Any amount not taken in the first year may be carried over for up to two more years.

Cindy Genther, real estate agent and vice chairman of the Kent County Economic Development Commission, testified in favor of the bill. She said commission members spoke with numerous property owners and builders throughout the county.

“All agreed that a sprinkler tax credit would be one more tool to encourage people to build new homes in Kent County. New home construction will help our local economy and it will increase our school population, hopefully. And that is why we are in support of this bill,” Genther said.

Chestertown-area resident Tyler Brice completed construction on his home — with a required sprinkler system — in 2019. He asked about the tax credit being applied retroactively.

“The sprinklers were kind of a prohibitive cost. They were an additional $7,500 tacked onto construction prior to even starting the building process,” Brice said.

County Attorney Tom Yeager said applying the credit retroactively would be problematic, as taxes were already assessed and collected.

Tom Mason, president of the county commissioners, said he understood Brice’s concern, having built in 2018.

“I feel for you,” Mason told Brice. “But I guess somewhere you have to draw the line. I’m sorry.”

The commissioners will continue to accept written comment on the bill through noon Friday, Jan. 10 at the R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. building, 400 High St., Chestertown.

Another bill is moving forward after the commissioners voted Jan. 7 on a resolution to propose changes to the zoning code to allow for data processing centers to be built in the county. By introducing the resolution, the commissioners initiated the process for a zoning text amendment, which would be first reviewed by the Kent County Planning Commission for an official recommendation.

Planning, Housing and Zoning Director Bill Mackey said the proposal comes as the Maryland General Assembly is poised to address the tax status of data processing centers.

The amendment submitted for county consideration would allow data processing centers as a special use exemption in the Agricultural Zoning District and as a permitted use in the Village, Intense Village, Commercial, Employment Center and Industrial zoning districts.

“By this particular legislative action, this board would make very clear to the business community and all members of the public that data processing centers are permitted in many commercial districts within Kent County, Maryland and hopefully we would be able to attract some of those,” Mackey said.

Mason questioned whether the requirements set forth in the amendment for data processing centers would make their construction in the AZD prohibitive.

“The goal certainly is not to prohibit them. It’s just to closely regulate them and sort of balance the idea of those businesses and protecting farmland,” Mackey said.

Mackey said the proposal is the first of a number of issues expected to be addressed as the county plans to overhaul the zoning code.

The commissioners also approved forwarding on to the local delegation of the General Assembly proposed changes to local liquor license laws allowing for batch special event permits to be purchased.

Frequently, the commissioners are asked to approve special liquor licenses for events, such as they did Jan. 7 for an upcoming ham and oyster dinner hosted by the Galena Volunteer Fire Company.

To streamline the process, the commissioners are seeking an amendment that would allow them to grant a permit for 12 special events at a cost of $200. Entities that would need more than 12 permits could purchase an additional 12 for $200, or single permits at the current rate of $10 for beer, $15 for beer and wine or $25 for beer, wine and liquor.

The individual permits would continue to be available for those hosting fewer than 12 events.

County Clerk Sondra Blackiston said the change has been suggested over a number of years and the county is now moving forward with it.

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