With all the needs in Baltimore County -- police, fire, schools, social services -- and the burden taxpayers feel, there's one line item in the county's proposed budget for next year that should prompt residents to sit up and take note:
"Granite Stump Dump Fire Suppression -- $1,600,000."
This is taxpayer money going up in smoke. And the county can't do a thing about it. In a decision last month, Circuit Court Judge James T. Smith Jr. ruled the county is as responsible for extinguishing the mountain of stumps and debris that have been smoldering in the tiny western Baltimore County village of Granite for 15 months as it would be for any resident's house fire. When the "stump dump" that James F. Jett runs at his Patapsco Valley Farms caught fire in 1991, acrid smoke wafted for miles. The situation isn't as bad now, but on damp days, a smoky smell is still pervasive.
Baltimore County is in the process of soliciting bids from excavators to dismantle this oversized mesquite grill. As the head of the Greater Patapsco Community Association put it, had the county devoted as much scrutiny to Mr. Jett's emerging landfill 11 years ago as it exhibited in its lengthy bid to contract for the excavation job, we might have avoided this costly problem.