Under Piles Of Recyclables Lies A Hidden Tax

THE OBSERVER

November 10, 1991|By Mark Guidera

In the coming months, Harford residents and businesses will start seeing a deluge of materials espousing the virtues of recycling.

What they won't be told in all the hype -- from an elementary school contest to pick a mascot for the recycling program to brochures explaining how to sort recyclables in blue bags -- is that the fees they pay trash haulers will rise because of the program.

Trash haulers will be passing on to their customers the county's new $60-per-ton tipping fee. For years, Harford trash haulers have been able to drop off garbage for the county to landfill or burn without paying for that service, a windfall of sorts.

The higher chargescustomers will pay as a result of the tipping fee are nothing more than a hidden tax aimed at raising revenue. That's proof that even though the county executive says she won't raise property taxes to offset the budget shortfall, she's not adverse to new forms of taxation.

That's not to say this tax is evil. It's become pretty clear, giventhe state's financial shipwreck, that local governments will have toresort to all sorts of user fees and other forms of "revenue enhancements" to pay for the myriad services expected of them.

And the higher trash collection fees businesses and residents will pay are further reminder that protecting the environment from abuse costs money.

County administrators estimate the new tipping charge could generate as much as $7 million annually. That revenue would be designated for solid waste management and environmental projects, such as closingand capping landfills and purchasing land for new ones.

That figure could be a on the high side, says Larry Klimovitz, the county director of administration, but at the very least the fee should cover the $2 million price of getting the recycling program under way. That cost includes hiring workers and equipment needs at a central drop site for the blue bags.

Here's how that tax will be passed on to the average homeowner and business:

Under the county's proposed trash recycling plan, haulers will have to pay the county a $60-per-ton feeto dump their garbage. Haulers in turn would recoup that new expenseby raising the fees they charge customers.

Local trash haulers say the program will cause the monthly fees charged for garbage collection --averaging $8 now for homeowners and $25 for businesses -- to increase considerably. "They'll probably double for residences and triple for businesses," predicts John McKenzie, of Baldwin-based McKenzieSanitation, one of about eight trash haulers in Harford.

The county argues that the tipping fee is "an economic incentive" for haulersto get customers to sort a high percentage of recyclables out of their trash. Residents will be asked to place recyclables in blue plastic bags for curbside pickup.

McKenzie agrees that the tipping fee will spur his company to do everything it can to encourage customers to sort recyclables. The less waste in his trucks carry when they pullup to dump it, the less he'll pay in tipping charges.

The hitch is this: Customers who respond bullishly to the voluntary program -- sorting out a high percentage of their recyclable waste -- won't see the collection fees reduced accordingly. McKenzie says it would be nearly impossible for haulers to keep track of which customers were goodrecyclers so they could be rewarded with a lower bill from the hauler.

That lack of a financial incentive for those generating the waste places the momentum of the recycling program at risk -- and the county will need all momentum it can get if it hopes to meet its goal of reducing the solid waste stream between 20 and 25 percent by 1994.

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