City-County Trash Attack

September 24, 1990

Shared problems and the escalating cost of government are finally forcing Baltimore City and Baltimore County to begin planning common administrative strategies. That is good -- and long overdue. A highly urbanized metropolitan area requires regional solutions, not parochialism.

Each year, Baltimore City spends about $56 million and Baltimore County $30 million collecting and processing garbage. That's serious money.

In February, when the City Council and the County Council met in an historic joint session, they targeted future garbage handling for a priority study. A Task Force on Solid Waste Management has now come out with proposals for concrete action. The main thrust is to reduce the current reliance on property taxes as the financing source of solid waste disposal. "Directly taxing the waste stream can reduce property tax burden in both the city and the county," the report says.

That's what Seattle is doing. It has created a separate authority to handle solid waste collection and disposal. Residents pay a fee for the service, depending on how much garbage they have for collection. A separate curbside program to collect recyclable materials is free to all residents. As a result, Seattle is recycling 34 percent of its waste and 77 percent of residents voluntarily participate in the curbside recycling program. Landfill tonnage has plummeted by 25 percent.

This is just one of the ideas of the city-county report. Others are equally thought-provoking, starting with a proposal that an extra disposal tax be levied on such items as cars, kitchen appliances, tires, razors and milk containers. The report estimates that by such fees could raise for the two governments up to $46 million a year.

Are these doable ideas?

"I think it's a very realistic report," says City Councilman Joseph T. "Jody" Landers III. Others are certain to disagree, particularly the various interest groups whose products would be affected. Yet something clearly needs to be done about the worsening garbage problem which keeps inflating governmental costs at a time when property owners are revolting against their tax burden.

The city council and the county council will now scrutinize the report's recommendations and see what ideas should be pursued. A chief motivation in seeking regional solutions is a desire to cut costs. Notes County Councilman Ronald B. Hickernell, "The factor that holds everyone's feet to the fire is money."

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