Megan Miller Cumberland Times-News
McHenry — MCHENRY — Topics ranged from taxes to school schedules, but the bottom line was the same — state legislators need to be mindful of the impact their decisions have on the Mountain Maryland tourism industry, Garrett County’s lifeblood.
That’s a message county officials and business leaders stressed Monday to Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot, who stopped in McHenry as part of his tour of all 24 state jurisdictions.
The start and end date for schools matters not only in Garrett County, where students make up a large portion of the work force, but statewide when families determine whether or not to vacation at the lake, according to county business owners.
“We seem to keep shortening and shortening our revenue season,” said Bill Meagher, owner of the Lakeside Creamery. “Now schools are ending as late as the 20th of June, so you’re at best getting seven weeks out of a 12-week season.”
“In tourism states that have realized that, they have adjusted schedules to accommodate it,” agreed Nancy Railey of Railey Mountain Lake Vacations.
Business owners also struggle with the comparatively high tax rates in Maryland, Meagher said.
CPA Shane Grady echoed the concern, saying that one of the major struggles his firm saw this tax season was a decline in company returns.
“We do see a lot of business owners frustrated with Maryland taxes,” he said.
That’s not the only state-level issue businesses are frustrated with, said Jim Hinebaugh, director of the Garrett County Department of Economic Development.
Hinebaugh said the slow progress and communication breakdowns in dealing with state agencies frustrate businesses owners and sometimes drive them out of Maryland.
“One of the things that … we deal with on a consistent basis is Maryland’s permitting process,” he said. “You submit a request to the State Highway Administration, it takes forever to get a permit, and no one follows up. It all contributes to Maryland’s reputation for being unfriendly as far as business goes.”
But the biggest long-term issue facing local businesses could be the county’s declining population and youth moving out, said Jon Kessler, owner of the Pine Lodge Steakhouse and other businesses.
“We need the rest of the state to recognize that we are not part of the same environment that is growing rapidly,” he said. “People to the east of us …. like the fact that they can come up here and the roads aren’t crowded, but that has a real impact on us.”
Franchot said the concerns about tax rates and bureaucratic red tape are nothing new, and he agrees things need to change.
“We have to keep taxes down — that goes without saying,” he said. “And public employees have to be much prompter and speedier at getting back to businesses on any questions about permits or other regulatory issues. … That’s just a mind-set that has to change in Maryland.”
As for Garrett County’s aging, declining population?
“I hadn’t really had that brought to my attention,” he said. “I’ll have to think about that.”
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