Imagine a time when everyone in the Baltimore metropolitan area pays a monthly fee for trash disposal, when 50 percent of Baltimore area trash is recycled -- and sold to cover the cost of recycling -- and when local governments cut their property tax rates by 25 cents or more because the money isn't needed to pay for trash disposal.
That time is near, according to the report of a combined city-county trash tax committee whose members yesterday approved final recommendations to be presented to their respective legislative bodies Oct. 15.
The report is a smorgasbord of possibilities, designed to give the two jurisdictions plenty of choices for ways to cut the amount of waste plowed under landfills and burned, increase the amount recycled, and cut the cost of the whole process out of the property tax-funded portions of the budgets.
Baltimore County Council Chairman Charles A. Dutch Ruppersberger, D-3rd, said that the big job now will be to make sure that the ideas in the report don't just gather dust but are studied further and brought to life by the respective jurisdictions' governments. "We intend to move forward," Ruppersberger said as the meeting concluded.
His fellow council member, Ronald B. Hickernell, D-1st, said he thought the consensus and compromises made to come up with the recommendations are "remarkable" given the very diverse opinions on the panel's three committees representing business, government, trash haulers, retailers, manufacturers and environmental advocates.
The committee was created early this year by the two councils acting independently of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and County Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen, to find alternatives to the controversial beverage container taxes enacted by both jurisdictions last year. The idea was to find broader ways to tax waste while reducing the trash put in landfills.
The city and county legislators were also looking for alternatives to the property tax.
Finance, recycling and marketing subcommittees were set up, and each contributed a few major recommendations to the report adopted late yesterday in Towson.
* Impose higher tipping fee surcharges on commercial trash haulers, which are charged a fee per ton dumped at local landfills and incinerators.
* Impose a so-called "single-item tax" on items distributed in Maryland, ranging from car tires and batteries to baby diapers, which City Councilwoman Sheila Dixon, D-4th, said can now be recycled into building bricks by a Swiss company. This is a broad wholesaler's tax, which would include but not be limited to the beverage container tax.
* Create an independent waste disposal authority that would finance its operations by charging residential customers by the size of the trash can they use each month. Similar to a system used in Seattle, this would encourage recycling because it would make people aware of the direct costs of their waste disposal, and waste put out for recycling would be collected for free.
* Governments, which purchase about 20 percent of the nation's products, must be required to buy only recycled materials when available and must require that recycled materials be used by private contractors doing government work.
* Governments should buy materials that can themselves be recycled after use.
* Local governments should work to attract private recycling companies to come to the area, like the Eastern Waste Industries Inc. recycling plant now planned for a 7.2-acre parcel in Halethorpe, in southwestern Baltimore County.
* Offer tax incentives for companies buying recycling equipment, and promote the use of energy-saving devices such as low-flush toilets and long-life light bulbs.
* Create a new recycling goal of 50 percent of all trash by the year 2000, surpassing the 20 percent goal now in place for 1994 in Maryland.
* Create a computerized inventory of waste byproducts for use by industry.
* Institute uniform reporting requirements to keep track of waste flow and progress toward recycling.
* Combine the city and county curbside recycling efforts, and give residents labels to affix to containers intended for recycling to make collections easier.
* Collect specific recyclables for specific purposes, like plastics for new stadium seats, or glass for street resurfacing.