Howard County Maryland Blog

Local Politics and Current Events

Beware the brackets – a hidden way to increase county spending?

Posted by Ed C on Monday, April 7, 2008

Buried in Howard County Bill 15-2008 (pdf) are a set of double brackets that may be a back door attempt by Ken Ulman to increase county spending. The introduction seems innocent enough (emphasis added):

AN ACT amending certain definitions; amending the amount and clarifying the enforcement of the mobile home park refuse collection charge; clarifying the fee for the collection of excess refuse; amending the refuse collection charge assistance program to clarify that the Department of Finance shall administer the program and to amend the amount of the credit; making certain technical corrections; and generally related to refuse collection charges in Howard County.

But a closer look at those pesky “certain technical corrections” under Section 20.900:

Section 20.900. Definitions.
(e) Refuse Collection Service: Refuse Collection Service means the collection and disposal by the county of solid waste[[, excluding the separate collection and processing of recyclable materials]].

Currently trash collection and disposal costs are paid with a annual $175 fee paid by Howard County residents, while the the costs associated with recycling are paid from the general fund. If this legislation is adopted as currently written, the costs for both programs will fall under the “trash collection” fee.

So what? We the taxpayer pay for both anyway, what difference does it make what accounting bin the money comes from? Well, according to public works director James M. Irvin (from the Baltimore Sun: Ulman wants recycling costs moved)

The trash fee raised $14 million for this fiscal year, which is close to what the county expects to pay for trash disposal, according to public works director James M. Irvin. Shifting recycling costs to that fund would mean more revenue would be needed to cover costs.

The current costs for collection in the recycling program is $5 million. That cost is offset by $1.4 million in the sale of recycled materials. This “technical correction” will place an additional $3.6 million dollar of costs into the trash collection “account.”

The current county trash disposal contract expires in 2013 and County officials are expecting a large jump in costs. So, when the county looks to increase the $175.00 fee, the total costs are going to appear even higher (about $45 per household)  when the recycling costs and the general trash collection fees are combined.

If this change passes, will Ken Ulman and the County Council reduce the general budget and reduce our taxes to offset this change?  Or, will this become “found money” and spent elsewhere, effectively increasing or tax burden?

Greg Fox (R-District 5) is going to seek such an amendment, but I was unable to find it posted on the County web site.

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