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December 10, 2007

The Delegation’s Workload – Part 1

Richard B. Weldon Jr.

It hardly seems possible, but we’re less than a month away from the start of the 2008 General Assembly session. Last week, I included a highlight of the Board of County Commissioners legislative package. If you’re anything like the dozens of people who approached me this past week, you’re looking for more information, so here goes.

In addition to all of the individual bills that various legislators from across the state plan to introduce, each county’s delegation is given a local wish list from their county governing body. We’re no different here in Frederick.

So, what are the bills that are at the top of the county commissioner’s list of anticipated legislative accomplishments?

There are six (6) proposed bills and two (2) policy statements. An interesting sidelight to the six bills is that only three of them would actually be introduced by the county delegation. The other three have statewide impact, so the introduction of those bills would result from a single delegate/senator taking it upon themselves to put in a bill.

In addition, there are a few other entities that want the delegation to consider changes in law to accommodate their interests. We’ll look at all of them here.

County Commissioners

1.) Solid Waste Franchise – The commissioners are seeking authority to award solid waste collection contracts under a system where they establish franchise areas, and haulers collect trash within those areas.

PRO – The commissioners believe that this system will allow a better-coordinated collection program. Further, they assert that through franchise areas, they will enable haulers to collect recyclable waste in a more efficient manner, leading to an increase in recycling. They say it will cut down on traffic; it will allow the establishment of safety standards; and most importantly, the commissioners believe this franchise system will ultimately save consumers money.

CON – With those potential benefits, you almost wonder how anyone could be against this. It’s really not that hard to figure out the opposition. First, the small haulers are very suspicious of promises made by the commissioners and county staff that a franchised collection system will help their individual businesses. Most small haulers are very skeptical of these kinds of commitments based on intuition.

Can you blame them? They’ve seen their industry taken over by the big companies, and they assume that trend will continue. Beyond that, rural Frederick County residents are even more suspicious of a policy argument that says that by yielding choice to the government, services will improve while costs will be reduced. The promise is antithetical to their experience.

Likely Outcome – A few delegation members may be persuaded by the combination of increasing recycling and reduction of collection costs. Overall, the bill will probably fail on a solid majority who will be persuaded by the enormous amount of mail we’ve received against the change.

2.) Mandatory Beverage Container Deposit System – Under this proposed legislation, the commissioners would be able to enact a 5 cent per bottle deposit. The purchaser would in effect pay extra 5-cents on the purchase of beverage in a non-reusable container. The consumer (or the person returning the non-reusable container) would receive a refund of the 5-cent deposit when they return the container to the retailer. In the language of this proposed bill, the commissioners would not be able to implement the program until they determine that a sufficient number of surrounding jurisdictions have adopted a similar program.

PRO – According to the advocates, a beverage return system and deposit system would reduce the disposal of these bottles along the roadsides of our county byways. Further, this system would potentially reduce one of the fastest growing waste products in our landfill. Some feel that adding the return deposit shifts the cost burden to the users who generate the trash, thereby reducing the budget demands on the general tax base. Sounds perfectly logical, you don’t use ‘em, you don’t pay.

CON – First retailers will be burdened with having to take back used bottles. Grocery stores see this policy requiring them to set aside retail space to accommodate bottle returns, and history has taught them that soda syrup in old bottles draws insects and rodents, and becomes a serious burden. Second, and, in my opinion, most problematic, is the idea that these schemes only work if they are done across jurisdictional boundaries. In a county like Frederick, where consumers can make purchases in Virginia, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania, this idea is even more important.

Likely Outcome – This one goes nowhere. Until the commissioners communicate across jurisdictional boundaries to build a multi-state collaborative, this concept will remain exactly, and only, a concept.

3.) Time Extension for the Annual County Financial Report – The commissioners are required by state law to submit an annual financial report before the Board of Education and Frederick Community College are able to provide their input data. That places the commissioners in a position to require an extension of the deadline every single year, since the FCPS and FCC are two of the largest organizations that report to the county for budget purposes.

PRO – It just makes sense, that’s all.

CON – None, nada, zilch.

Likely Outcome – It will pass.

So, that pretty well sums up the actual bill requests that the Frederick County Delegation will deal with in Annapolis this year. In Part 2 tomorrow, I’ll cover the rest of the bills and policy statements the commissioners wish to make to the General Assembly

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