Man Challenges City's Fee Increases

November 04, 1990|By Paul Shread | Paul Shread,Staff writer

Quietly, almost unnoticed, Sylvanus Jones of Annapolis has been staging his own tax revolt.

While the anti-tax group Anne Arundel Taxpayers for Responsive Government has grabbed headlines for its proposal to limit county property tax revenue increases, Jones has quietly set about gathering petitions and organizing meetings to roll back a few fees in Annapolis.

Jones opened his quarterly utility bill on Sept. 10 and found it had doubled, to $72.85.

"No one told me they were going to increase my taxes that much," said Jones, a former federal adjudicator who retired on disability. "I'm not angry with anybody, but when it comes to someone taxing me inappropriately, I am going to challenge them."

So he went to a City Council meeting that same night to express his displeasure at the increase. Not satisfied with the response he got from aldermen, he came back the following month with a petition to repeal the increase in water, sewer and refuse-collection charges. His committee even had a name: The Ad Hoc Committee of the Citizens of Annapolis.

Since then, Jones has gone to every ward in the city to gather signatures, and he promises that everyone in Annapolis will have a chance to sign the petition. He said only two people have refused to sign, but he won't say yet how many signatures he's gathered.

He invited Alderman John R. Hammond, R-Ward 1, chairman of the finance committee, to his Bausum Drive home to talk to a room full of residents about the increases.

Hammond stayed for two hours and apparently made a misstatement that fueled the group's resolve. Hammond said the city has a $10 million balance in its water fund and a $9 million reserve in its sewer fund. City records, however, show the balances to be $1 million and $900,000, respectively.

Jones plans to double-check the records. "That's a huge discrepancy," he said. "I want to find out whether they need that increase that's going to cause a hardship on so many people."

Hammond and City Administrator Michael Mallinoff said they were sympathetic to Jones and others on fixed incomes, but they said the fee increases were needed.

"That's a whopping increase," Hammond said. "Hopefully, we'll be able to do something about that next year, but for the time being, this is what we have to do."

The council increased water and sewer fees about 23 percent when it approved the fiscal year 1991 budget last June. The higher fees will bring in about $800,000.

Finance Director William Tyler said the increases were the first in three years and were needed to offset rising costs and decreasing revenues from developers. The city also lost more than $300,000 when the U.S. Naval Academy plugged ground leaks in its water collection system, cutting the academy's sewer bill in half.

The council increased the refuse-collection fee from $96 to $188 a year to make up for $2 million in commercial tipping fees the city expects to lose when its landfill closes next year. The county has rejected the city's plans to expand the Defense Highway site, a decision the city is appealing.

In his petition, Jones said the city didn't properly notify taxpayers before increasing the fees. He said the city should have sent residents letters notifying them of public hearings on the increases, or mentioned the hearings on the back of utility bills.

"You know how the trend is now," he said. "People are fighting back.

Politicians are going to have to be accountable from here on in with what they do with taxes."

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