Homeowners in a White Marsh neighborhood in Baltimore County scored a victory in the General Assembly when lawmakers passed a bill allowing them a tax break because they live so close to the Eastern Sanitary Landfill.
But County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said this week he doesn't expect County Council members to approve the break — and if they do, he'll veto it.
"I think it sets a bad precedent," Kamenetz said.
State lawmakers approved a measure enabling the county to grant the break to 104 homeowners in the Bowerman-Loreley Beach neighborhood near the landfill. If each homeowner were given a 100 percent break on property taxes, the county would forfeit about $245,500 total in annual tax revenues.
Kamenetz said giving such a break to residents of the Bowerman-Loreley Beach community could open the door to residents elsewhere seeking similar compensation because they, too, live near less-than-desirable facilities, such as a sewage plant or jail.
"Where does it end?" he asked.
Kamenetz said all property owners need to "fairly and equally" pay taxes toward the cost of county services such as schools, roads and police. It's not fair for one community to not pay property taxes, he said.
"I know our council members feel we're all in this together," Kamenetz said.
Council Chairwoman Cathy Bevins, a Middle River Democrat who represents the area, said she's sympathetic to concerns of homeowners near the landfill. Bevins said she will discuss the issue with council members, but she's not sure a tax break is appropriate and getting one passed would be difficult.
"I have to have four votes [on the council], and I think the county executive will veto it," she said.
Bowerman-Loreley Beach residents sought the tax break because the landfill is having a much longer life than originally predicted, mainly due to successful recycling efforts in the county. Residents say they thought the facility would be closed by now, but instead they continue to deal with dust and noise from the operation.
The landfill will soon house a transfer station for trash from Harford County, further extending the life of operations there.
The tax break issue has frustrated Dorothy Hinnant, who has lived in the community for more than 50 years and is vice president of the community association.
"We were given hope when the governor signed the bill," she said. "We thought, 'Oh yes, finally something after all these years of lies and dirt and dust and noise.'"
During the assembly session in Annapolis, the tax break legislation drew attention beyond the neighborhood because Kamenetz employed an unusual strategy in an attempt to defeat it. He sent a letter to parents of schoolchildren in other parts of the county, suggesting he wouldn't be able to fund school construction projects if the property tax break went through. He asked parents to write state lawmakers and implore them to kill the measure.
The letter was criticized by many school parents, property owners near the landfill and state lawmakers who pushed for the tax break.
"This concerns our community and the dump and nobody else, really," Hinnant said. "It shouldn't be an issue all over the county."
Kamenetz insists he was right in sending the letter. After all, he said, state lawmakers pushing for the property tax break also ask constituents to write him with requests for school funding.
"We can't have it both ways," Kamenetz said.
State Sen. J.B. Jennings, who sponsored the state bill, said he hopes to use it as a bargaining chip in negotiating other concessions for the community.
He said the neighborhood could benefit from having more trees planted or from repairing roads that have been damaged by truck traffic.
"We need to do something for this community and this is the tool that I had at my disposal," said Jennings, a Republican who represents the area. "If the county executive doesn't want to pass it, then let's sit down and talk about what we can do with the community."