Stung by the low rates charged at private, out-of-state landfills, Anne Arundel County faces a $1.6 million deficit at its landfill in Millersville.
To erase the deficit without increasing homeowner fees, County Executive John G. Gary wants to lower temporarily the rate charged to certain commercial haulers who can guarantee the ** county large volumes and revenues.
LTC However, members of the County Council -- who are to vote on the plan tomorrow night -- have expressed reservations.
Late last week, administration officials still were trying to line up the five votes needed to pass the "emergency legislation."
"What they are doing isn't a solution," said Councilman Tom Redmond, a Pasadena Democrat. "It's a temporary Band-Aid, and it might not solve the problem."
Commercial tonnage at the landfill has dropped from 146,351 tons in fiscal 1994 to 94,331 tons last year. Officials expected 75,000 tons this year, but have since revised the estimate down to 48,000 tons.
Officials attribute the drop to the opening of a half-dozen private, mega-fills" in Pennsylvania and Virginia. Those private facilities charge half as much as the county.
In interviews this summer, Mr. Gary acknowledged that his tipping fee plan is a stopgap measure. He said he will devise a long-term solution that may include turning all or part of the landfill operation over to private companies.
Mr. Redmond and other lawmakers worry that a lower fee could increase the deficit if it does not attract haulers.
Lawmakers also are concerned that it runs counter to recycling and other efforts aimed at conserving landfill space, described as a precious asset.
"The worst thing we could do is destroy that asset," said Councilman William C. Mulford, an Annapolis Republican.
Two weeks ago, a number of small hauling firms raised another concern. They testified before the council that Mr. Gary's plan favors national waste disposal companies. They said the plan's minimum tonnage requirements and demands for financial guarantees prevent them from benefiting from the lower fees.
Commercial haulers that collect trash for businesses and apartment complexes pay $60 a ton to dump at the landfill on Burns Crossing Road. Mr. Gary wants to slash the commercial tipping fee by as much as a third to attract up to an additional 60,000 tons of trash.
Commercial tipping fees subsidize residents' curbside trash and recycling pickups, though most of the trash dumped at Millersvile comes from residents. About 125,000 households pay the county $198 annually for curbside service.
Councilman James E. "Ed" DeGrange, a Glen Burnie Democrat, introduced a resolution Sept. 5 urging Mr. Gary to rewrite the plan to allow the businessman with 10 or fewer trash trucks to vie for the lower rates in competitive bidding.
"It's our responsibility to at least give them the opportunity to compete," Mr. DeGrange said. "We have to be concerned about the small businessman out there."
James Pittman, deputy director for the Department of Public Works, said the county will open the bidding for discounted landfill space to smaller businesses if the council passes the bill.
Although the decline in dumping has created short-term financial problems, officials say it will add three to five years to the life of the 21-year-old landfill. Officials estimate it will be filled before 2010.
Mr. Pittman expressed concern that if council members hesitate tomorrow, the county will not be able to make up the $1.6 million deficit in the fiscal year that ends June 30. The single, large national firm -- Browning-Ferris Industries -- that has expressed interest in the county's offer probably will turn its attention elsewhere, he said.
Council Chairwoman Diane R. Evans, an Arnold Republican, said she will support Mr. Gary because she does not want to have to raise the fee residents pay for curbside service next year to make up the deficit.
"I think this may be the only way to keep that from happening," she said.