ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday that Harford County cannot break a 1969 agreement with the town of Bel Air to dump the town’s trash for free.
The high court unanimously upheld a circuit court’s ruling that the county could not charge the town as much as $10,000 a month in “tipping fees” at the county landfill.
“It’s a question of fundamental fairness,” said Jefferson L. Blomquist, Harford County’s lead attorney in the case. “Now the citizens who live in Bel Air pay less and those outside of Bel Air have to pay more.”
But an attorney representing the town disagreed.
“I don’t think the relationship is unfair,” said Charles B. Keenan Jr. “The county has alternatives to make sure the people in the town of Bel Air would pay exactly what they would in other municipalities.”
Those alternatives include a direct county tax on Bel Air residents, which was called unlikely by the spokesman for County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann.
“We’re not going to be billing the town and I don’t see any other activity taking place” said George Harrison, the spokesman for Rehrmann. She was unavailable for comment.
The legal wrangling started in 1981 when the county first tried to bill the town for so-called “tipping fees.”
“Times have changed significantly,” since the original no- fee agreement, said county attorney Blomquist, and so have refuse costs.
The county says tipping fees encourage recycling by making dumping more costly, and are also needed to cover possible environmental damages that could not have been foreseen in the 1969 agreement.
Bel Air Town Administrator William N. McFaul said the town’s 9,600 residents already recycle 38 percent of their trash, well above the county goal of 25 percent for municipalities.
He said he is relieved that the legal battle with the county is over after 16 years.
“We talked and talked and talked before we initiated our complaint in court,” McFaul said. “We would have had to make a choice of raising the tax rate or paying (the fee) out of general funds, or to create a special trash fee.
“All we needed them (county officials) to say is we were exempt,” McFaul said.