Maryland officals, responding to the concerns of some local governments, are refining the way they allocate tax-exempt bond authorizations this year to make more money available in pockets of high growth around the state.
"We're giving counties what we know they have the capacity to use," said Thomas S. Saquella, executive assistant secretary in the state Department of Economic and Community Development.
"It's also a recognition that there are certain counties in this state where there's a lot of growth," he said.
Tax-exempt bonds are highly popular because local governments can sell them and use the proceeds to offer low-interest financing for shopping centers, industrial plants, new housing and other projects in their jurisdictions.
But last year, to stem the loss of tax revenues, Congress imposed a nationwide ceiling on government-issued development bonds that will limit Maryland to $650 million in authorizations for 1985.
The figure, $200 million less than last year's, has caused concern among local officials who rely heavily on low-interest financing from the sale of bonds to fuel their economic development efforts.
Last year, under the new ceiling, $316 million was divided, based on population, among the state's 24 local governments. Another $134 million was held in reserve for governments that exhausted their initial authorizations. The rest, about $180 million, was earmarked for state agencies and municipalities.
"Last year wasn't a serious problem. We had a year's ceiling for basically six months' activity. This year will be very, very tight," Saquella said.
In public hearings in October, officials urged the state to consider a range of modifications to the allocation system that would make more bonding authority available to the state's faster-growing jurisdictions.
"We ran 14 different formulas based on population, employment and growth, but none of them worked. So we threw them all out and came up with a new approach," Saquella said.
Under the new method, the state has divided local governments into two categories, based on their past use of development bonds.
The 12 local governments in the first group, which did not exceed their authorizations in 1983 or 1984, will receive only half their allocation for 1985, Saquella said. The other half will be held in a reserve fund in case it is needed later on.
Montgomery County -- which averaged $17.2 million in development bond issues in 1983 and '84 -- will get $22.5 million initially, or half its $45.3 million allocation for the year, according to state figures.
"That probably ought to be enough," said Jeff Burt, the county's manager of business and industrial development. "We know about $20 to $25 million in projects now. If my calculations are correct, we won't be hurt."
Jurisdictions in the second group will receive their full allocation plus a bonus equal to 90 percent of their two-year average, or $30 million, whichever is less, Saquella said.
Howard County, which falls in the second group, was empowered to issue $9.8 million in bonds, but over the past two years has averaged $65 million in authorizations. Thus, the county will get its $9.8 million allocation, plus a $30 million bonus, Saquella said.
"We're pleased," said Howard County Executive J. Hugh Nichols. "This gives us the confidence we need to assure developers of financing when they make application here."
A separate authorization is being set aside for municipalities which will not exceed 5 percent of the state ceiling. State agencies will be limited to authorizations up to 15 percent of the state total, according to the proposal.
The state also will have a special category of bond authorizations available for areas of high unemployment, for large projects such as waster-water treatment plants and for minority businesses.
In September, the state will call in all unused allocations and make them available on a first-come, first-served basis, according to the proposal.
"We think it's realistic," Saquella said. "So far, the comments I've heard were [from people who were] all satisifed with it."