Explanation of Select Votes

Commissioner Keefer has proven his independence, and his voting record speaks for itself.  Here is a sample of recent votes he has taken, the overall position of the Board of County Commissioners, and explanations of why Commissioner Keefer voted as he did.  If you would like to know about a certain vote, please send an email to: votekeefer@gmail.com .

1-9-2018   Express Approval for  Cloverly Hills, LLC,   3-2 Vote

For: Commissioners Jeff Cline, John Barr, and LeRoy Myers

Opposed:  Commissioners Terry Baker and Wayne Keefer

https://www.heraldmailmedia.com/news/local/washington-county-allows-cloverly-hill-to-adhere-to-smithsburg-zoning/article_7ef46654-45cd-5006-b45f-12171df77674.html


My Understanding:  The developer of Cloverly Hills, LLC asked for annexation into the Town of Smithsburg, which was granted by the town council.  Because the zoning of the county land is significantly different than what is allowed by the town, either five years must pass before the property can be rezoned, or the Washington County Commissioners must agree to the change in zoning.  The town's zoning would allow for multi family housing and an expanded commercial use.  Cleverly Hills, LLC would also be allowed to forego paying town property taxes until the project builds out or is sold to another developer, while at the same time their county property tax rate is reduced as a county property within a municipality (about half).  In theory, this amounts to a huge property tax deduction with no end.  The developer has already owned the land for years with no development activity.


My Reasoning:  I voted no, because again, we are offering a tax incentive to a developer with no equivalent to the private taxpaying citizen.  If a hardworking taxpayer wanted to purchase land to build a home, there would be no option to forego taxes or pay less taxes until the home is built.  Essentially, the developer could force the town to wait to ever receive a tax revenue stream until demands of how to develop the property were agreed to.  Also, there are several unanswered questions about the availability of water and sewer services in general area, when one accounts for the building lots which are awaiting completion.  Yet another reason, a no vote would not kill the project, and in fact the county could grant its own waivers as plans are presented, which at the time of the vote, plans were not yet made public.  As to the offer of free land to the local EMS station if approved, current county zoning would allow for an EMS station regardless if the express approval were granted or not.



6-13-2017   Free transfer of 63 Acres of Ft. Ritchie Lakefront Land to JGBLI Developers,   4-1 Vote

For: Commissioners Terry Baker, Jeff Cline, John Barr, and LeRoy Myers

Opposed: Commissioner Wayne Keefer

https://www.heraldmailmedia.com/news/local/washington-co-commissioners-vote-to-transfer-acres-at-former-fort/article_f79e261c-5052-11e7-bb19-13348632afe3.html


My Understanding:  In summary, Ft. Ritchie is a former US Army Base that closed around 1998, shortly after which the land was transfer to the Pen Mar Development Corporate, an entity created by the State of Maryland to develop the property.  Although some promising leads came about, nothing materialized.  Around 2015, Washington County began courting JG Business Link International, a family owned firm with ties to South Korea business and government leaders, in hopes of promoting foreign investment within the county.  Legislation was passed by the Maryland General Assembly to dissolve PMDC and transfer the land to the Washington County Commissioners.  Although no firm offers were presented, the county was asked and agreed to transfer about 63 acres of prime Ft. Ritchie land near the lake for free to JGBLI, in hopes of spurring development discussions.


My Reasoning:   Although I support the general concept of redevelopment of the Ft. Ritchie Army Base, I do not support the notion of granting free land without any firm plans or signed business contracts.  I suggested various options, including a provision that the land reverts back to the county after a few years if development does not occur, offering a smaller 5 acre parcel, offering a free lease until something is built, waiting until a firm offer comes about so we know who will be occupying the property, or opening up the same offer of free land to the "bid" process, and allowing the commissioners to choose the most desirable concept.  I also feel that, for those residents who lived at Ft. Ritchie, it was an unkind to remove the tenants one month, and the next month offer the land for free.  Quite possibly, the housing community itself may have wanted to come together and make an offer.  I am also not aware of this same offer of free land at Ft. Ritchie was ever offered to any local businesses in recent years.



5-2-2017   Bethel Garden Apartments, Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT),   3-2 vote
For: Commissioners Jeff Cline, John Barr, and LeRoy Myers
Opposed: Commissioners Terry Baker and Wayne Keefer


My Understanding: In summary, Bethel Garden Apartments, a 93 +/- rental complex, was sold to Raymond James Investments, who in turn planned to hold the real estate in a quasi non profit status.  RJI would be able to take substantial tax breaks for "investing" in a large subsidized housing project on their corporate tax return.  Approximately $60,000 per unit would be spent on remodeling.  Because of the remodeling effort, rent would be expected to nearly double.  However, tenants only pay at most 30% of their income, so most tenants would likely not pay additional rent.  However, the government housing subsidies to RJI would increase.  RJI's ask of the county was to extend a PILOT, or payment in lieu of taxes.  For 42  years, RJI would pay a much reduced annual property tax payment to the City of Hagerstown and Washington County, and in turn use that money towards the cost of financing the project.


My Reasoning:  At one time, my family was helped by housing programs that support low-income residents.  I am not opposed to helping those in need.  In fact, I believe it is a duty of ours to offer a hand up to those who want to better themselves.  However, I have a serious concern about benefits being given to corporations while those same tax benefits are not available to the private, hardworking citizens of Washington County.  I believe if we are going to offer these same tax benefits, we MUST offer a tax cut to the private homeowner choosing to remodel or upgrade their home.