Snowden says BGE seeks to frighten citizens into opposing 'pole tax' plan Alderman criticizes utility for warning of higher bills

March 20, 1996|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

An Annapolis alderman says Baltimore Gas and Electric is trying to scare residents into opposing his plan to help pay for burying power and telephone lines through a utility surcharge.

Alderman Carl O. Snowden held a news conference at City Hall yesterday to denounce a March 15 letter from BGE to customers that warned electric bills would increase $11 a month if the "pole tax" increase became law.

Mr. Snowden introduced legislation in January to increase the tax paid by utilities by 300 percent. The bill has been temporarily tabled in committee.

"BGE knew the Economic Development Committee voted to put this issue aside," Mr. Snowden said. "I can't speculate as to why BGE would send such a letter. This is a deliberate attempt by BGE to inflame, misinform and distort the truth."

The letter urging Annapolis customers to oppose Mr. Snowden's bill was written by R. Clayton Mitchell, BGE public affairs manager and former speaker of House of Delegates.

Mr. Mitchell said the state Public Service Commission has ruled that the cost for such projects "must be borne by the individuals accruing the benefit."

BGE, he said, would be forced "to place a surcharge line item on your bill to collect the pole tax moneys from Annapolis City residents alone."

Mr. Snowden's resolution would have increased a fee of $50 per pole to $150 for BGE, Bell Atlantic and TCI Cable Co. to help pay for burying the wires from the 3,000 utility poles in the city.

BGE pays the city about $50,000 per year in taxes. If the legislation passed, it would pay about $230,000, which would include light poles that were not taxed before, said BGE spokeswoman Peggy Mulloy.

Of the five municipalities that tax poles, Laurel has the lowest rate of $2 per pole, while Annapolis and Baltimore have the highest at $50, Ms. Mulloy said. BGE spreads the cost of existing pole taxes over its entire customer base, but if the legislation passes, only Annapolis residents would be affected by the surcharge, she said.

Although BGE would have to get permission from the Public Service Commission to pass the surcharge along to Annapolis customers, Ms. Mulloy said the company did not anticipate any problems in getting approval.

Mr. Snowden said he will amend his bill to either reduce the surcharge or revise it so that it does not "specify that the tax would be used for undergrounding wires."

Ms. Mulloy said the amendment would make no difference and denied that BGE was using "scare tactics."

"We just wanted to be out there and inform people about this hidden tax that would have an enormous effect on them," she said.

Pub Date: 3/20/96

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