Lawmakers from Baltimore and Baltimore County at a joint session at City Hall received yesterday a set of recommendations they hope will allow the two governments to end the practice of using property taxes to pay for keeping streets clean.
If the city and county decide to implement suggestions by the Baltimore City/Baltimore County Task Force on Waste Stream Management and Reduction, they will be adopting a wide range of measures to discourage residents and businesses from using disposable materials.
Such a system would reward recycling, punish the use onon-recyclable materials and end government reliance on property taxes to pay the cost of garbage removal. It would shift the cost of collecting and disposing of trash to those who throw away the most.
"Ultimately, it is a system where our property taxes do not pay at all for the collection or disposal of trash," said City Council President Mary Pat Clarke.
Now that the two councils have the task force's report, they will explore ways of implementing the suggestions. In Baltimore, the council's Policy and Planning Committee will recommend ordinances that would carry out the goals of the report.
The recommendations call for setting up a solid-wast "enterprise fund" as well as independent authorities in the city and the county to pay for collecting and disposing of trash.
The program would be similar to a 30-year-old program in Seattle, where residents subscribe to a collection service and are given trash containers that are picked up weekly. As in Seattle, financial incentives would be given for recycling trash, rather than throwing it away.
The report recommends other measures to boost conservation and to save the environment, ranging from legislative initiatives to save trees to using building and housing codes to save energy and water.
The joint task force, made up of lawmakers and business leaders, was established in February by the Baltimore City Council and the Baltimore County Council to explore ways of reducing the enormous flow of trash that pours into landfills or is burned in incinerators.
Trash removal has become an increasingly vexing problem for city and county government leaders, who must grapple with problems stemming from soaring collection costs, diminishing landfill space and air pollution from municipal incinerators. The city spends about $43 million each year to dispose of almost a half-million tons of trash; Baltimore County spends about $30 million to dispose of about 350,000 tons of trash.
For the most part, the cost of trash removal is paid from property tax revenue. This has become a thorn in the side of city and county lawmakers, whose constituents are increasingly hostile to rising property taxes.
"Believe me, there is a tax revolt going on out there," said C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III, chairman of the Baltimore County Council.
But although members of both councils apparently found it easy to praise the overall goals of the task force report, they likely will find it much harder to reach agreement on what laws are needed.
The council could use zoning laws, license fees or a range of administrative procedures, according to the report.
For example, lawmakers looking for revenues to pay for the removal of a plastic jar might consider imposing a tax on wholesalers selling products in plastic jars or retailers selling the jars. Alternatively, they might charge people to pay for the right to throw the jar away.
Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who addressed yesterday's joint session, promised to work with County Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen. "I fully agree that regional cooperation is necessary if the plan is to succeed," the mayor said.
Among the recommendations for reducing waste and easing tax burden of collection and disposal:
* Imposing fees on residents and businesses for trash collectio based on the volume of non-recycled trash discarded.
* Requiring that government purchases be made from recycled materials to support the recycling industry.
* Setting a target of recycling 50 percent of waste in Baltimore FTC and Baltimore County by the end of the decade.
* Using taxes and laws to discourage production of toxic or discardable products.