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'Flush tax' billing error to cost $6,700

October 10, 2006|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Because of an error matching septic system users to property they don't own, Washington County is reprinting and resending more than 15,000 Maryland Bay Restoration Fee bills.

The state established the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund two years ago. Each home served by a wastewater treatment plant is charged $2.50 per month. Households with septic systems pay $30 a year.

The county sends bills for the fee, which has been called a "flush tax."

The county issued a notice Monday announcing the mistake after getting complaints from property owners.

Debra Murray, the county's director of budget and finance, said the top of each bill, which lists the property owner's mailing address and account number, is correct.

However, the bottom of the bill, which lists the actual address of the property, was incorrect on at least some bills.

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"We're assuming all are wrong," Murray said.

She said a test run worked. But when all of the bills were printed, the property addresses somehow were switched.

The county mailed the bills late last week.

It will cost about $6,700 to resend the bills, mostly for postage, Murray said.

She said the county will ask the state to cover the cost.

Robert Ballinger, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of the Environment, said he hadn't heard of a locality making a billing error, then asking the state to pay for it.

He couldn't find out Monday if the state will cover the cost because his office was closed for the holiday, but he said the department will look into it.

This is the second time in less than a year that the county has mailed flush tax bills that created confusion.

In November 2005, some residents complained that they were improperly billed or double-charged as having both municipal sewer service and a septic system.

Using a state database, the county tried to figure out which properties had septic systems, but ran into problems.

The bills last year also listed the fee as "30.000" - with a decimal point - which some property owners interpreted as $30,000.

In July, the City of Hagerstown resent 12,500 tax bills - at a cost of about $5,500 - after a percentage was incorrect.

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