Convening for its first full meeting since being sworn into office, newly elected Mayor Mike Bennett and the Aberdeen City Council voted unanimously Monday night to approve a 10-year tax break for a property owned by Art Helton – the Democratic former state senator who masterminded Bennett’s triumphant ascent.
While Enterprise Zone tax credits, 10-year phased reductions in taxes due on properties located in specially designated areas like Route 40, are certainly not unique, it is unusual the city council would act so swiftly after the Nov. 6 election to approve Helton’s tax break.
In fact, the Helton tax break was the first and only legislative item on the plate for the new mayor and council Monday night. See:
- Resolution No. 07-8 Greater Aberdeen, Havre de Grace Enterprise Zone for 690 S. Philadelphia Blvd., Art and Ann Helton Properties, LLC (For Introduction and Adoption)
The Helton tax break was approved by a unanimous 5-0 vote with no discussion from the mayor or any of the members of council.
Helton, of course, was the primary booster of Bennett for mayor and has been tapped by the new mayor to head up a 30-person transition team tasked with ferreting out problems in city hall and with Aberdeen government operation.
And while we’re talking conspiracy theories, it’s interesting to note the Aberdeen Economic Development Corporation, chaired by failed city council candidate Steve Johnson – who was also heavily supported by Helton, does not provide a link on its web site to download an application for an Enterprise Zone Tax Credit, although it appears it once did.
So while it may be entirely legal, it certainly is unsightly to award a tax break to the man who just single-handedly handed you the keys to the mayor’s office. As Helton explained in an email, it was all just a matter of coincidental timing.
“This was applied for 6 months ago and goes through normal approval routine. First the county has to approve it, this was done several weeks ago. This is a routine tax credit that anyone in the targeted redevelopment zones on the Rt. 40 corridor is eligible for,” he wrote.
The property for which the Heltons are receiving the tax break is the old Colonel’s Choice Restaurant site on Route 40 which has been vacant for about 5 years. Art said he and his wife, former Harford County Executive candidate Ann, bought the property after failed attempts by others to redevelop the site.
“Projects like these are why you have tax credit programs for blighted areas,” he wrote.
My questions to Helton were simple: Had former mayor Fred Simmons done anything to stall the tax break or had new mayor Bennett done anything to accelerate the tax credit approval?
The answer to both, predictably, was ‘no.’
“This is a state, county,and municipal tax credit program that was approved by state law. Nothing that we have been singled out to receive. There must be at least a hundred of these that have been approved over the years in the revitalization zone on Rt. 40,” Helton wrote.
I agree with Helton that this Enterprise Zone tax credit program awards tax breaks to dozens of property owners each year, many inside the Aberdeen portion of the zone.
But shouldn’t Helton, Bennett and the city council have held off approval for another session or so – just to give full assurance that there was no impropriety? And couldn’t Bennett or one of the council members at the very least have made a comment during the public meeting Monday night?
Maybe something like this: ‘We recognize this looks bad, almost like a political payback, but please believe there is nothing political about this vote.’
It would have been nice for someone to give the citizens of Aberdeen confidence that the Bennett administration isn’t getting off on the wrong foot.
After all, in his campaign Bennett did talk about ways to cut the tax rate – we just assumed he meant for all of Aberdeen and not just Art.
Gee Brian, are you becoming a conspiracy theorist? The huge tax break for Art, coming at this time, form this puppet, is purely a coincidence. Let's give the guy a break. It's probably for the seniors and the tiny little chillun anyway.
I don't see anything wrong with the approval of the Tax Credit application, but it IS undeniable that the timing could have been thought out a little better. As long as the Heltons went through the proper process, and the application was handled in the course of normal business and not in lieu of more pressing matters, carpe diem.
But you'd like to think there would have been at least a single voice somewhere saying, "hey, let's not make this the first and only legislative item of our first session."
With 30 people advising him for the past couple of weeks, couldn't they find ANYTHING else to at least PAD the agenda with? A pothole repair request, tree planting grant, bird strike abatement program at Phillips Field? Something…
The Harford County Council approved resolution 30-07 Enterprise Tax Credit 690 S. Philadelphia Blvd. Aberdeen at its November 20, 2007 Meeting.
So, the answer to your question Brian about Simmons holding up the City's approval is no, but the county didn't approve it "several weeks ago" either.
I am so utterly dissappointed in myself for voting for this character. What an absolute joke.
Transition Man says
Only 1 year and 11 months left, how much can Helton really screw things up? Self-serving Government at it's best!
From The Dagger mailbox via Art Helton came this clarification of how Enterprise Zone Tax Credits work:
"To start with there is no lessening of the existing taxes on the property. The credit only occurs on the improvements. The credit is not 100% on the improvements and diminishes over the 10 year period. In other words if you redevelop or renovate a run down property the subdivision still gets increased taxes. That increase is phased in over 10 years. It seems to me this is a win for all parties including the citizens. This doesn't take into consideration increased employment and the beautification of the area."
And this response to concerns about the timing of his Enterprise Zone Tax Credit approval Monday night:
"I never asked to be put on the agenda . That was not my decision, this could occur any time, even months from now. There is no magic in the timing. If I had been asked I would not have put it on the schedule Monday night."
And isn't that so typically Helton? That guy can't help himself. I just want what's best for the chilluns. Just imagine how the seniors will benefit. There is nothing wrong with making money,but in Art's case he also has to "win".
vietnam vet says
did anybody' pick up the rumor ? art helton bought the vacant lot c.curtis morgan owned at w.bel air ave. beside the historic railway station. new office space?
Just like dirty wash. Every time you turn around the hamper is full. Here we go again. Doesn't anything ever change in Aberdeen!
I believe he bought that some time ago. at least someones buyin in aberdeen doesnt seem like many others are
observer for observe says
I'd rather see a renovated property on Rt 40 than a rubble pile. Helton has done to clean up Aberdeen.
i agree and i also think that people assign much more power to art than he credit himself
Art Helton says
All. Please stop the rumor mill.My wife and I bought the approximately 4 acre lot beside the old B&O station from CSX about one year ago. This site has sat vacant for around 20+ years except for a small piece that had been rented to Mr. Curtis Morgan. It does not include the Train Station.We have done some preliminary site and architectual work in hopes of one day putting an attractive office buiding on the site. We have a web site which has a rendering of the building displayed ( http://www.aberdeenofficelocators.com) .This website also shows some other properties we own. I have been in business in Aberdeen for more than 40 years during which time I have tried my best to make a living and be a good neighbor who supports the community and takes pride in the way I treat folks. If you have something specific with which you take exception to in the way I have conducted myself professionally please let me know what that is. We also own other Aberdeen properties that we have rehabilitated. Some of these we have received awards for. You can reach me personally if you have further questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.Our city has many issues that need attention, let us all work together to solve them. Art Helton
I have no aversion to success, whether it be political success or financial success. This country was built by successful businessmen who freed us from the yoke of English colonial tyranny.
I believe that where you begin to lose people's support, Mr Helton, is when the line between politics and finance becomes blurred, or dissapears altogether. A wise man once told me "don't s#!t where you sleep."
As a Democrat, where did you come down on the whole "Halliburton" controversy? Were any of those contracts awarded as political payback? How about Jack Abramoff? Any of those dealings p!ss you off? I know they did me.
What if the mayor of Baltimore gave no-bid contracts to family members? Any fallout from that?
Be successful, Mr Helton. Brave young men have fought and died to ensure you that right. Be successful in business, be successful in politics, live long and prosper. But don't be suprised, when the line between political activism and personal gain gets fuzzy, and people's first reaction is one of "If it walks like a duck, looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck…"
Don't worry Mr. Helton everyone understands your tax credit being on the agenda was the Planning Director's way of thanking you for putting her (the only City employee) on the transition team.
While I applaud what you are trying to do for the city with your redevelopment initiatives, this latest property causes some concern for me. A quick question:
Are there plans to expand W. Bel Air Ave to more than 2 lanes? I'm just asking because you are proposing to put a 50,000 square foot, 3 story office complex on a 2 lane road, excuse me, avenue right next to an elementary school and bordering a residential area. Not to mention that traffic in that area already has to drive at a snails pace due to crossing the B&O tracks. Has this been approved by the city yet?
art helton says
Steve: Thanks for looking at the website.As I said originally my work at the CSX site is preliminary. No presentation or approvals have been made. The site and architectual work that has been done expresses and adheres to all of the code requirements relating to green space, parking needs, and traffic issues. all of this has to be approved by the city and most of it by the county as well as meeting state mandated standards. Lots of public evaluation involved in these processes.If and when we move forward it will be open to public scrutiny. Art PS It would be great if all that have questions or go on this BLOG would use their full names as I have. Seems like the American way to me.
Mr Helton, I have known you to be a very savy buisnessman in Aberdeen for a very long time. I have known you to be awarded the purchase of City owned property at well below what others offered to pay. I don’t have a problem with that, that’s just buisness. But I will not use my full name on this blog because I have known you to be very vindictive when someone has questioned you (or methods) in the past. And personally, I think your involvment in City politics is a conflict of interest. I only hope the City council can muster up the strength to stand up to you. There is an awful lot of money to made in Aberdeen over the new few years and you have put yourself in position to be able to dominate both politically and financially.
I just hope the citizens of Aberdeen don’t end up paying for all this in the future.
vietnam vet says
rumor was stated until a fact could be established.people talk the question was did mr helton' buy the old railway property? fact yes he did.rumor is squelched.if you want to know something,ask the people. and I thank you'for takeing the time to answer the question.
Is anyone really surprised about these recent events? Art Helton is not a puppet master but is a ventriloquist and Mike Bennett is a dummy .No one even knew who he was before the election and we still don’t .
Art Helton is a real hands on kind of guy.