County likely gains budget reprieve

Legislation would allow Anne Arundel to boost fees for restaurants, wells and food processing plants

General Assembly

April 13, 2008

Anne Arundel County probably has won a reprieve from major budget cuts, thanks to some of the local bills that passed the General Assembly in its final days.

Gov. Martin O'Malley is expected to sign legislation that will save the county Health Department $573,000 in inspection fees during the next fiscal year and reimburse it $104,000 for inspections last year, according to county officials.

Most of the savings comes from passing on the costs to restaurants, food processing plants and residents who drill water wells.

"While it was painful to do, we would have had to cut programs in the Health Department," said Del. Mary Ann Love, a Glen Burnie Democrat who chairs the county's House delegation.

County Executive John R. Leopold echoed her comments and praised the delegation for pushing for the increases.

"If we had not been successful in passing this legislation, we would have faced the possibility of cuts in essential services," said Leopold, who got most of his legislative agenda passed in the session that ended Monday.

Once the measure is signed into law, the county will be able to raise license fees for restaurants and food processing plants from $300 to as high as $500, depending on the size of the establishment. The money will help the county pay for the $247,000 in inspection costs that were not covered by the fees. The county now collects about $505,500 in licensing fees.

The removal of the cap brings the county in line with Baltimore and other counties that have obtained exemptions from the statewide cap.

By removing another cap, the county will be able to collect a higher permit fee from residents who drill wells. The current fee is capped at $160 per well or per cluster of wells, even though the county estimates the actual cost for the inspection and water samples at $532 per well.

After the legislation is signed by the governor, the county is expected to increase the fee to $532 for new wells and $266 -- or half the cost -- for replacement wells. County officials estimate this will save the county $325,000. The county says an average of 874 wells are drilled each year in Anne Arundel.

County officials won agreement from the full House and Senate to get reimbursed $104,000 from the Maryland Department of the Environment for testing and monitoring the well water for 83 homes and businesses near the Gambrills fly ash disposal site between October 2006 and April 2007. The money would come from a $1 million civil penalty levied on BBSS Inc. and Constellation Power Source Generation Inc. for contamination of public drinking water wells near BBSS' Gambrills sand and gravel mine. The bill, which awaits the governor's signature, would take effect June 1.

Nonprofits are expected to get a break from increases in county impact fees once the governor grants the county permission to exempt or provide credits to nonprofits. County officials are planning to increase impact fees intended to pay to expand schools, roads and sewer systems to accommodate growth.

Leopold said he wants to give credits or exemptions to nonprofits, such as Arundel Habitat for Humanity, to help secure more affordable housing. The total impact fee for a single-family, detached home is $4,904 for fiscal 2008, and Leopold is seeking to increase the fees.

County revenues from impact fees totaled $10.5 million in fiscal 2006 and $9.2 million in fiscal 2007. The bill is awaiting O'Malley's signature.

County officials also worked closely with state lawmakers on legislation that would create revitalization and incentive zones in advance of the military expansion around Fort Meade. The resulting bill will allow the county to negotiate an annual payment in lieu of taxes from Dallas-based developer Trammell Crow Co. to pay for improvements to nearby roads, schools, and water and sewer lines. The company plans to build a $700 million office complex at the Army post in West County.

Because the development is on federal land, the developer would not have had to pay property taxes. The money the county gets from the payment will help support infrastructure improvements for the Odenton Town Center, which is near the BRAC zone, Leopold said.

The county did suffer a setback from legislation that will ban video bingo machines statewide by July 1, 2009. The county will lose about $2 million in license fees and tax revenue in fiscal year 2010.

The county was one of the few places where the machines were allowed, but legislators said the machines were illegally proliferating. Lawmakers also were concerned that the machines could create confusion when voters consider a referendum to allow slot machines in Maryland in November.

The ban, which the governor is expected to sign, will cost jobs throughout the county, Love said. She said Anne Arundel's three bingo parlors did a good job of oversight.

"They did it well and got punished," Love said. "That tells any small business to be careful when you come to Anne Arundel County."

PASSED IN ANNAPOLIS

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