Annapolis' Trash Problem

November 26, 1991

The imminent closing of Annapolis' landfill gives the city an opportunity to come up with a refuse disposal strategy that makes sense. Right now, Annapolitans spend $188 per household or business for trash disposal, more than twice the rate paid by their neighbors in the rest of Anne Arundel County. The reason? The county uses a sub-contractor; Annapolis operates its own landfill.

With that landfill swelling toward capacity and eventual shutdown next year, the city is exploring alternatives. It has toyed with the spectacularly bad idea of expanding its own over-priced landfill. A far more sensible option is merging with the county's trash collection system.

From the vantage point of the city taxpayers who foot the bill, this is far and away the best option. Privatization would require the city to hire its own haulers at $75 to $150 per household per year -- not including tipping fees -- to truck the trash from Annapolis to Anne Arundel's Millersville landfill. Moreover, John Patmore, head of the city's Public Works Department, says that Annapolis' dilapidated dump trucks would be hard-pressed to make the 30-mile round trip to the landfill without establishing a transfer station and buying two flatbed trucks priced at $800,000 apiece.

Yet the idea of merging with the county's trash-collection system has caught considerable flak. Aldermen Ruth Gray and and Dean Johnson are worried about recycling and leaf removal. Alderman Wayne Turner is interested in reducing cost but concerned about control. He says he will recommend privatization or merger depending on cost, but notes that if the cost is "even close" the city should privatize to "keep control."

This is the real issue. Anne Arundel and Annapolis, the city within its borders, have been feuding for years over real and perceived threats to Annapolis' right to survive as a municipality. Closing the city's landfill won't be painless. Annapolis will lose $2 million a year in tipping fees that subsidize the city's transportation system.

With its landfill straining toward capacity and legal barriers impeding further expansion, however, we can't see that Annapolis has much choice. Joining the county's trash-collection system is clearly the most logical alternative. This would give Annapolitans decent trash service at a reasonable price. It is time for city officials to put the taxpayers' interests first.

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