ANNAPOLIS – Facing more than $300,000 in admissions and amusement taxes, the owner of a Carroll County excursion train told lawmakers Friday that the train should be exempted.
“We will not survive under the tax,” Don Golec, owner of EnterTRAINment, told the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.
Arguing that the train is a federally protected rail line under the Interstate Commerce Commission, Golec appealed to the legislators to support small business. Besides creating jobs, Golec said the train brings money into the area by attracting tourists.
But opponents of the measure said that the train’s only purpose is entertainment and it should be taxed like other amusements.
“If this bill passes, the citizens of Westminster will lose $386,000,” Mayor Ken Yowan said.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Larry Haines, R-Carroll, and Sen. Timothy Ferguson, R-Carroll, would exempt the train from paying admissions and amusement taxes to local towns, including Union Bridge and Westminster. The tax rate in Union Bridge is 5 percent; in Westminister, 10 percent.
“I personally don’t want to see this train thrown off the track by what I see as a few greedy tax collectors,” Haines said.
But Sen. Barbara Hoffman, D-Baltimore County, committee chair, and other legislators were concerned that they were being thrust into the middle of a legal battle.
The state has sued EnterTRAINment in Maryland Tax Court in an attempt to collect the money the localities say they are owed. The case, which was supposed to be heard earlier this month, was postponed because of the bill.
Golec claims that he inherited the tax debt from Maryland Midland Railway, former owners of the line.
But officials from the state comptroller’s office testified that the current owner “has operated the business for the entire time of the assessment.”
Golec also argued that the tax is discriminatory, given that the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad Development Corp. pays no taxes on its two-mile scenic train rides. State officials, however, countered that Western Maryland is exempt because it is a non-profit firm.
Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, D-Baltimore County, said that he heard no “good faith attempts” by the local jurisdictions to compromise with Golec.
But Yowan assured the legislators that he and Union Bridge Mayor Perry L. Jones don’t want to lose the train. “We think EnterTRAINment is an asset and we’re willing to work with them,” he said. Jones added that he enjoys the train but “wants his fair share.” -30-