Anne Arundel County will raise the trash and recycling collection fee by $43 a year, the first increase in nine years, if the County Council approves the proposed rate increase in this year’s budget.
County Executive Steuart Pittman proposed a solid waste collection fee increase to $341 from $298, according to this proposed fiscal 2022 budget. Officials say the county is out of methods to pay for a growing divide in revenues and expenses.
If approved, the increase would be the first since fiscal 2012 as the department had been able to squeeze revenue through different cost-cutting measures, said public works director Chris Phipps. The market for recycled materials, which previously found an eager buyer in China, has shrunk as overseas countries have begun to produce enough of their waste to fit their needs.
At the same time, the county’s collection rate has remained stagnant, and over the last nine years, the waste collection reserve funds dwindled as expenses began to outpace the money coming in.
“We’ve been able to keep squeezing out another year,” Phipps said in an interview, “but the time has come that we can’t do that any longer.”
Councilwoman Jessica Haire, R-Edgewater, after Phipps presented the fee hike to the council on May 6, asked if the “shocking” increase could be spread out over several years. The department did examine two additional rate models, one which would push the hike to Fiscal 2023 and another that would distribute the increase over two years, but neither achieved the necessary fund balance.
In seeking additional ways to aid the fund, Councilman Andrew Pruski, D-Gambrills, asked if there are any additional cost savings in the department.
“Is there anything else that we can do in terms of saving cost for solid waste that maybe we’re not thinking of,” he said.
Revenue from the electricity plant at the Millersville landfill buttressed the waste collection budget and cut down on electricity costs, Phipps said.
Employees now collect yard waste in paper bags rather than plastic, which allowed the department a wider choice of outlets to sell to. And an education campaign over the last two years cut the amount of recycling contamination in half, neutralizing additional costs from the contractor that sorts the county’s recycling. The department also proposed a fee increase, from $75 to $85 a ton, for commercial dumps at the Millersville landfill.
The county has for years implemented a rate stabilization model to stabilize the rates residents pay for as long as possible by changing the rate once and burning off the revenue in the years to come. That model typically lasts three or four years, Phipps said, but the county was able to push through nine.
Still, the efforts are not enough to push the old rate one more year.
The money collected for trash and recycling pick-up is managed in its own enterprise fund, and the county’s financial policies require the solid waste fund to maintain a reserve fund that is 10% of the cost of running the waste collection program.
Without the rate increase next year, the program would not be able to maintain the necessary fund balance, said county budget officer Chris Trumbauer. Going forward the public works department will review the revenue needs annually to assess whether to raise or lower the rate in order to maintain the revenue reserve.
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“It’ll be about 3.5 bucks a month,” Trumbauer said. “That will get the fund stable again and will be able to keep it stable.”