New fee or tax rise urged to pay for closure of Howard landfills

February 11, 1997|By Craig Timberg | Craig Timberg,SUN STAFF

A committee created by Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker yesterday recommended a new fee or higher taxes to pay for $35 million in cleanup and closure costs at three county landfills.

In its far-reaching annual report, the Spending Affordability Advisory Committee also urged the county to curb its long-term borrowing, which has ballooned during Ecker's administration.

Howard now has the highest per-capita debt in the state -- owing $384 million, or $1,650 for every county resident in 1997. The debt was $1,623 per county resident last year. The committee recommended adding no more than $25 million a year in new debt next budget year, which starts in July.

It was the second time in three weeks that one of Ecker's committees urged new fees or taxes. And for the second time, Ecker -- considering a run for governor on the strength of his fiscal management of Howard County -- was cool to the idea.

"It's easy to say something when you don't have the responsibility," said Ecker, a Republican, after the committee issued its findings at a news conference in his office.

In his State of the County address last month, Ecker vowed he would not increase taxes or fees. But if he changes his mind, the proposal could come in his budget, due in April.

The spending affordability committee, comprised of 17 Howard business leaders and county officials, warned that Howard has too much debt, including some projects financed by 20-year bonds that will outlive the usefulness of the projects.

The committee's report particularly criticized Ecker's plan to use 20-year bonds to pay for nearly all of the $35 million needed to clean up and close Alpha Ridge, New Cut and Carrs Mill landfills. The landfills are contaminated.

"We do not believe, as a matter of principal, that it is right for us to pass the debt to our children and grandchildren," said Steve Sachs, committee chairman.

The committee suggested paying for the landfill projects with five-year bonds. The county would repay the debt through a temporary, tax-deductible charge that would increase tax bills.

That charge would start small, then grow as high as 2.7 percent of the current tax rate before ending after five years.

Pub Date: 2/11/97

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