Under a proposal in front of the County Commissioners, Carroll homeowners would no longer pay landfill tipping fees.
But there is a catch.
While the county's 42,000 homeowners no longer would pay their trash hauler the $15 Carroll charges for each ton of trash dumped in county landfills, they would pay the county directly in the form of a $50 levy tacked on to their annual property tax bill.
In other words, the cost of dumping trash in landfills is going up -- again.
Last July, the tipping fee was doubled to $15, spurring a round of increases in municipal tax rates and a general rise in the amount of money private trash haulers charge their customers.
This July, the tipping fee is scheduled to jump as high as $35 a ton, as the county's Department of Natural Resources Protection grapples with a dwindling amount of money to handle an expanding array of problems.
"The numbers are definitely difficult this year," said James E. Slater, director of the Resources Protection Department. "You have to supply a certain amount of services, and the costs keep going up. We just want to propose a break-even situation."
Breaking even will require the higher fees, Slater said. And while the commissioners have several weeks until they set the tipping fees for the budget year that begins July 1, they acknowledge that the charges definitely will rise.
The department must generate more than $4 million next year to meet operating expenses and implement a pilot curbside recycling program.
Two options exist for the tipping fees, Slater said yesterday in a meeting with the commissioners. One is to charge the fee for the entire 120,000 tons of trash dumped in landfills here on a yearly basis.
Under that scenario, the fees would be around $35 a ton and would raise enough money to pay for a pilot curbside recycling program as well the operating costs associated with the landfills.
However, Slater's other proposal would have commercial establishments -- which generate about half of all trash here -- paying the $35-a-ton fee. Homeowners -- who now pay tipping fees in their annual trash hauler bills --would be exempt from the per-ton fees.
Instead, they would pay a $50 utility tax directly to the county, which would enable them to dump as much trash as they generate -- whether it is a ton or 10 tons ayear -- at no additional cost.
Slater said that the $50 tax wouldbe in addition to the amount of money homeowners already pay for trash service, which is provided mostly by private haulers.
Carroll County has one of the lowest tipping fees in the state and the second-lowest in the metropolitan area. Baltimore City charges $55 a ton, Baltimore County $50, Anne Arundel at least $33 and Howard $45. And those jurisdictions are expected to increase the amounts by July. Harford, which does not charge a tipping fee for dumping in its landfills, is expected to impose a $45-a-ton fee for the next fiscal year.
Tipping fees aren't the only increases proposed by the department. Slater said that the current budget crisis has the department scrambling to be self-sufficient.
In addition to running the landfills, the department also performs the mandated environmental reviews on proposed developments.
And while fees already are charged for the non-environmental development review process, none are charged for the work Slater's department performs.
"We don't think the services we provide for developers should be taken out of the general tax fund," Slater told the commissioners.
His office is proposing a schedule of fees that should generate about $149,000.
The fees include storm water management reviews -- up to $2,500 -- and environmental reviews -- up to $100 an acre for an industrial development of more than 10 acres.
"This will help us almost completely offset what we've been doing," Slater said.
At the same time Carroll proposes higher review fees, the state also is talking about charging for its development review services, Slater said.
Together with the nearly $5,000 in development review fees on an average 100-unit subdivision, the cost of building projects in Carroll will go up if Slater's proposals are approved by the commissioners.
But, says a former president of the Carroll County Homebuilders Association, the fees for environmental review probably won't discourage building here.
"Traditionally, thefees government charges are not significant enough to affect the development community," said Martin K. P. Hill, president of Masonry Contractors Inc. in Manchester. "I hope that if they are going to collect fees for different services they not use it as an excuse to expand the size of government."
Slater, the commissioners and Managementand Budget Director Steven D. Powell insist an expansion of Carrollgovernment is an unlikely scenario, especially with the county facing the possibility of layoffs, reduced services and strained facilities.
"These fees are simply paying for the services we're providing," Slater said. "There isn't any slough or profit in these budgets."
All fees levied by the county, including any Department of Resources Protection increases, are to be decided sometime next month.