Commissioners Tell State To Charge For Fees Now Free

October 23, 1991|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff writer

Like all jurisdictions, Carroll has taken its lumps during the recent rounds of state budget cuts.

And while the county commissioners have lamented the sudden actions of the governor and General Assembly, they also have offered a suggestion for a remedy that could help soften the blow in the future.

The commissioners have written to the governor, chairmen of the four House and Senate budget and taxation committees and Carroll's legislators, urging them to adopt fees for some state permits, inspection certifications and plan review services which currently are free.

Carroll has implemented a "user fee" program, charging for such services as environmental reviews, development reviews, fire plan reviews, building construction plan reviews and inspections, and percolation and well inspections. The county expects to collect more than $900,000 in fiscal 1992, ending June 30, from such fees.

Since applicants are not charged fees for some state services, costs are borne by all taxpayers, say the commissioners. Many of the permits and inspections required by the state involve a change of land use or environmental approvals that benefit businesses and developers, they say.

"While we are definitely not anti-business, we feel that the funding of the necessary state reviews and approvals is a cost of doing business," they wrote. "These costs should be borne by the producers or consumers of the products and services requiring such approvals.

". . .The general public should not support, or in effect subsidize, these costs."

The state Department of the Environment, Department of Natural Resources and the Soil Conservation District don't require fees for certain permits and certifications, according to James E. Slater Jr., county Office of Environmental Services administrator. Some examples include open burning, refuse disposal and water appropriations permits, and water quality certifications.

"Many millions" of dollars could be raised to cover costs by expanding the fee structure, thecommissioners wrote.

The state's "entire fee structure" will be studied during the upcoming legislative session for possible changes for fiscal 1993, said Page Boinest, assistant press secretary to Gov. William Donald Schaefer.

"It's a logical place to look" for raising revenue, she said.

Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy said the letter is a "hint to the state on how we're searching everywhere for added revenues. There's a good deal of money that could benefit the state andtrickle down to us."

MDE is considering creating new fees not only to generate revenue, but to "influence behavior," said spokesman John Goheen.

The agency is studying "green fees," which would be established on a sliding scale. They would be designed to influence permit holders to cut down on the generation of waste and other environmentally harmful by-products through financial incentives, he said.

Although most permits require a fee, he said the amount collected doesn't cover the costs of inspections, review, processing and enforcement.

Delegate Richard C. Matthews, R-Carroll, chairman of Carroll'sdelegation, approves of the commissioners' recommendation.

"Seniors living on Social Security shouldn't have to pay to hire more people to do reviews for commercial enterprise and development," he said.

Sen. Charles H. Smelser, D-Carroll, Frederick, Howard, a Senate Budget and Taxation Committee member, said he plans to talk to MDE's director about the idea, which "has some merit."

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