The burning issue of the day for the County Council is what to do with the executive's proposal to start curbside collection of recyclable trash items.
Since November, a majority of the council hasn't done much but trash it.
But it's time for the council either to make recommendations for substantive changes to the proposal or this week enact the plan, which calls for residents to place in separate blue bags a wide range of recyclables, from glass to yard waste.
The county needs to get on with the business of curbside collection this summer. And the councilshould keep in mind that built into the proposal is an understandingthat tinkering and fine-tuning will be needed after the plan has been in effect and the glitches come clear.
The question that has caused the most controversy -- and is credited with grounding the plan since early November -- is how much the "tipping fee" should be. Garbage haulers would pay the fee to dump non-recyclable refuse in the landfill.
The county executive and her staff have proposed that the money be raised through a "tipping fee" as the most expeditious way toraise cash to eventually pay for all costs to manage Harford's growing solid waste problem.
Her proposal calls for a $60-per-ton fee at the start of the curbside pickup program, slated for June.
Haulers would pass this new cost on to customers by doubling their monthlytrash collection bills, which now average $8. Some haulers estimate that unless the voluntary recycling program is hugely successful, they will have large loads to dump, paying lots of dough to the county.
For that reason, some council members have been negotiating with the executive to lower the fee. They worry that customers, already smarting from other inflationary hits, will react harshly.
So at Tuesday's council session, it's likely a proposal will be floated to lower the tipping fee to between $30 and $40 per ton.
If this compromise -- which I called for several weeks ago -- is broached, the council should move to accept it and pass the plan.
But residents and haulers should keep in mind that tipping fees (and customers bills) will rise in time.
For one, higher tipping fees are the only fair wayto ensure the county's cost for managing solid waste -- operating the landfill, opening new cells and paying for recyclables to be hauledout of the county -- are covered fully.
That's the point of the tipping fee: It's what is more commonly known in the economics of operating government services as a user fee.
All kinds of government agencies charge these fees and most of us pay them with nary a thought.
Secondly, the higher fees will ensure customers' bills will risein the short term. If the increase is substantial, particularly for businesses which produce huge volumes of waste, it will make good economic sense for them to help their hauler bring down the tipping fee payments by sorting recyclables out of their trash.
Some council members have balked at the tipping fee, worried it could lead to pricegauging among haulers.
But with fewer than a dozen haulers in thecounty to monitor, it shouldn't prove difficult for government administrators to investigate price-gauging claims.
And, if customers feel hoodwinked, they can seek out a new hauler who offers a lower feebecause he does a better job of educating and encouraging customers to cut their waste by sorting recyclables.
Fact is, virtually every county in the region charges trash collectors some type of tipping fee.
For example, in Cecil County, which has a private hauler collection system like Harford's, haulers pay $50 per ton to dump their truckloads at the landfill.
In Baltimore County, haulers dumping commercial waste pay $60 per ton and those dumping non-hazardous industrial waste pay $72 per ton.
And there is reason to hope residents at least will respond enthusiastically to sorting recyclables out of their trash for curbside pickup.
Town administrators in Bel Air, which launched its curbside collection program Nov. 14, estimate a startling 79 percent participation rate among the the four communities where once-a-week pickup is offered.
So it seems that while the council may not be ready for recycling, the common resident awaits it eagerly.