The St. Mary's County Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday to seek state certification that would allow a local advisory board to seek public funds for historic preservation.
In addition, the board agreed to consider enacting an ordinance that would grant one-time property tax credits to owners who restore and preserve historic homes.
"I think this is an important step for us in county government. It verifies our interest and the value we place on historic and cultural preservation as part of our heritage and community," said Commissioner Joseph F. Anderson (D-Drayden), vice president of the board.
By taking the two actions, the commissioners gave permission to St. Mary's Historic Preservation Commission, a seven-member advisory group, to apply for "certified local government" designation from the Maryland Historical Trust.
County Planner Mary Hayden, who oversees historic preservation work in St. Mary's, said state certification will make the county eligible for a portion of about $70,000 in historic preservation money divided among 13 local governments. Calvert County's historic preservation commission has such a designation.
As a certified local government, the commission would be able to nominate historic properties in St. Mary's County for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. With new grant money from the state, the county could conduct additional surveys to identify historical sites, prepare design guidelines for a potential historic district or produce a newsletter promoting historic preservation similar to one now published in Montgomery County, Hayden said.
"Part of the commission's function is . . . general education of the public about historical preservation and [to] increase awareness," said Joseph R. Guyther, a retired family physician and chairman of the local Historic Preservation Commission.
The grants and tax breaks would be "something that can be dangled as an incentive for people who have old homes to not abandon them or tear them down and restore them instead," Guyther said.
The proposed tax credit, which will require a change in local law, would give a homeowner a 10 percent property tax break for the cost of rehabilitating a historic home. Ten percent of the project cost could be applied as a break on local property tax, Hayden said. For new construction that's compatible with historical properties, the county could give a 5 percent tax break.
The commission is holding a series of public hearings as part of the work on the county's first historic preservation plan. For the past several years, county architectural historian Kirk Ranzetta has been documenting and identifying homes and other historical structures in St. Mary's.