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Council to weigh refund on sewer bills Homeowners charged retroactively for increase in fees


Anne Arundel County lawmakers tonight may reject a call by some of their colleagues to refund $700,000 to homeowners in Linthicum and Broadneck who were charged retroactively for sewer and water service at the county's new, higher rate.

The County Council is to vote on a resolution criticizing County Executive John G. Gary for including a 13.5 percent rate increase in those homeowners' water and sewer bills for April, May and June even though the increase did not go into effect until July 1. The resolution also calls for the refund.

But Councilman Tom Redmond, a Pasadena Democrat, said he could not support the resolution because the council approved the increase, which will cost the average homeowner an additional $57 a year.

"We passed the legislation. We should have read it," he said.

Diane Hutchins, the executive's legislative lobbyist, said the law raising the rate approved by the council in May clearly noted the increase would apply to all water and sewer bills mailed after July 1. The bills for homeowners in Linthicum and Broadneck were mailed after that date.

Council Chairwoman Diane R. Evans, an Arnold Republican, and Councilman George F. Bachman, a Linthicum Democrat, who introduced the resolution after constituents complained, have acknowledged that refunds may not be practical because of the cost and logistical problems.

Financial officer John Hammond has told council members the county's computerized billing system is outmoded and cannot recalculate the bills.

"We're essentially telling the administration we don't want this to come around again," Mr. Bachman said. "You got away with it for eight years. . . . Don't do it anymore."

Councilman Bert Rice, an Odenton Republican, said he opposes the practice known as "back-billing," but suggested the resolution may only serve to sour relations with the executive who inherited the policy.

Mr. Hammond said the county is in the process of revamping its billing system as part of a state-mandated move toward semiannual payment of property taxes, but it could take three years.

In addition, a rebate either would create a deficit in the self-sustaining fund that finances the utilities or force the county to raise the rates again in midyear, Mr. Hammond said.

The council also is to vote on a plan to ease a deficit at the county's Millersville landfill, relax the environmental review for certain waterfront homeowners and allow mega-plex movie theaters to locate in certain industrial parks.

The deficit reduction plan would allow Mr. Gary temporarily to offer certain commercial haulers a lower tipping fee in order to entice them to the landfill. Officials say the higher volume would erase the $1.6 million deficit.

The Critical Area Buffer Exemption program would relax the red tape required of up to 150 waterfront homeowners who apply each year to build decks, sheds or other additions.

The program would affect about 160 miles of shoreline.

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