SNOW HILL — In an effort to give local business a boost, the Worcester County Commissioners approved applications requesting that both Snow Hill and Pocomoke be made into enterprise zones, which will now be forwarded to the state. However, at least one Snow Hill resident felt his town’s application was not seeking enough.
“One of the only hopes for Snow Hill is expanding across the [Pocomoke] River,” said resident and business owner Gary Weber during a public hearing on Tuesday.
According to Weber, the version of the Snow Hill Enterprise Zone application that made it to the commissioners did not incorporate enough properties, specifically those on the other side of the river. He claimed there were only about seven places where a new business could open in town while there was considerably more room and opportunity across the water.
“It’s vital,” said Weber of extending the enterprise zone to the far side of the Pocomoke.
When confronted with the realities of designating an enterprise zone, Weber’s request hit a roadblock.
“It’s not as easy as just coloring it in [on a map],” said Snow Hill Mayor Stephen Mathews.
According to Mathews, one of the most glaring issues is that the land across the river technically doesn’t belong to the town. It’s owned by the county.
Weber argued that, whatever the technical definition, that land was part of Snow Hill.
“Even though it’s in the county it really is Snow Hill,” he said.
Another conflict with Weber’s request involves the town and county water and sewer plans. Neither is set up in a way that could incorporate land across the Pocomoke into a town enterprise zone.
“The plans have to follow the plans,” said Commissioner Virgil Shockley.
While plans could be amended at some point to make Weber’s request viable, it would be a complex procedure and time consuming. Applications for enterprise zones are due to the state by April 15.
“It’s a whole process you have to do first,” said Commissioner Judy Boggs.
The commissioners decided they may want to take another look at adding property across the river into a Snow Hill Enterprise Zone in the future, but didn’t wish to saddle the current application with what they viewed as a ponderous and unlikely addition.
“It puts the rest of what we’re trying to do at risk … I’ll take what I’ve got and get what I can get,” Shockley told Weber.
Achieving an enterprise zone status for Snow Hill and Pocomoke would be a big boost for the towns, according to Worcester County Director of Economic Development Bill Badger.
“In my experience, it’s a great tool … it’s an important economic development tool,” he said.
Both Snow Hill and Pocomoke have been designated as enterprise zones in the past, added Badger, but “for a variety of reasons that status lapsed.”
However, because the applications the county is sending to Annapolis are only asking for re-activation of a prior designation as opposed to requesting new enterprise zones, Badger was optimistic both will be approved.
With the new status, the towns will be more attractive to businesses for a variety of reasons. New businesses will be offered tax abatements and, because Worcester is considered a “distressed county” due to high unemployment rates, businesses can also receive a $1,000 tax credit for each new job created, according to Badger.
Enterprise zoning is just one of the strategies that Badger told the commission he will explore to help jumpstart Worcester’s economy.
“I think this is an important step,” said Boggs.