Landfill policies in city defended

O'Malley administration says procedures aim to reduce illegal dumping

April 09, 2004|By Doug Donovan | Doug Donovan,SUN STAFF

Mayor Martin O'Malley's administration defended the operations of the Quarantine Road Landfill yesterday after a city audit released this week criticized the dump for lax fiscal oversight that left cash collections open to theft.

The Department of Audits' report said landfill operators ignored its warnings about how cash is handled and that the dump has lost revenues because it has not been charging appropriate fees to small haulers.

In addition, the audit criticized the Department of Public Works for waiving such "tipping fees" for certain government agencies that used the South Baltimore landfill.

Administration officials said the landfill's fee policies are aimed at reducing illegal dumping and cutting costs for disposing debris from demolished buildings.

City auditors, who report to Comptroller Joan M. Pratt, began their audit in April last year after landfill officials alerted them that cash was missing. During their review of receipts, the auditors revisited findings from a 2000 audit that had raised questions about cash collections and other landfill procedures.

This week's audit stated that from Aug. 23, 2002, to March 18 last year more than $200,000 collected from haulers never made it to city bank accounts because of procedures that did not require supervision of cash collections and deposits.

The state's attorney's office was called in, and it investigated. On April 1, a former landfill employee, Thomasine Dionne Felder, pleaded not guilty to charges of theft. A trial is set for July.

The audit stated that the Department of Public Works improved its procedures after March 19 last year and has since adequately collected its cash. But it was critical of several other landfill operations.

It stated that the landfill charged certain customers less money by designating them as "small haulers" even when they exceeded that designation's maximum weight of 7,000 pounds. The audit recommended the revocation of such customers' small-hauler permits and that they be charged large-hauler rates. The small haulers pay a set fee and $67.50 for every ton over 7,000 pounds. Large haulers pay the same rate on the weight of their entire load.

Public Works Director George L. Winfield said in his official response to the audit that the policy is meant to encourage more small haulers to use the landfill. Revoking permits, he wrote, would encourage more illegal dumping.

The audit also found that the city was not charging tipping fees to the Department of Housing and Community Development, the Housing Authority of Baltimore City and the city's Transportation Maintenance Division.

"Waiving of fees was a policy decision we made so we could do more demolitions" of blighted, vacant buildings, said Stephen Kearney, an O'Malley spokesman. "Tipping fees account for half of demolition costs. By eliminating those costs we can demolish twice as many neglected structures."

One private company, W.R. Grace & Co., has not been charged the facility's surcharge, the audit stated. If it had, the company would owe the city more than $800,000.

Winfield said the company sold the city the Quarantine Road landfill site in 1984 at a reduced price so that it could dump at the facility at a fixed rate. Winfield said the city's law department is reviewing the deal to see whether a surcharge violates it.

Winfield said his office is also investigating why the landfill did not bill $318,000 in surcharges to the city's Bureau of Water and Wastewater.

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