County Council members angered by move to curb bulk trash pickups

December 13, 1993|By Erik Nelson | Erik Nelson,Staff Writer

The county government is quietly phasing out curbside pickup of bulk trash, such as sofas and air conditioners -- a move that has drawn fire from County Council members and neighborhood leaders.

"I called to get next year's bulk pickup schedule and that's when I found out," said Wendy Tzuker, Harper's Choice village manager.

News that the last bulk pickup would be made Jan. 25 spurred Ms. Tzuker and Columbia's other nine village managers last month to write a letter of protest to County Executive Charles I. Ecker.

Mr. Ecker responded in his own letter Nov. 30, contending the county couldn't afford to improve the overburdened service, which consists of two people and a rented truck visiting neighborhoods once every 2 1/2 months. As a result, the county executive wrote, he decided to eliminate the service.

But Ms. Tzuker said she and other Columbia officials are not satisfied with that explanation. She said they had no opportunity to comment on elimination of what they view as a vital county service.

"I happen personally to be using bulk pickup next week" to get rid of a couch and chair, she said.

"I'd be willing to pay $5 to $10 an item to get rid of them; I would pay to support the service."

After the free service is eliminated, residents will have to pay private haulers to pick up bulk trash.

"We certainly could have done a better job of announcing it and explaining it," Mr. Ecker said Friday.

But, he said, residents will be better off because they will not have to wait months for pickup.

While curbside service is being phased out, the county still will bring a roll-off container to any neighborhood that requests a "community cleanup day," Mr. Ecker said.

In his Nov. 30 letter that explained the decision to village managers, Mr. Ecker said the service had begun in the mid-1970s with staff paid by federal job training grants. In the late 1970s, the federal money was cut, and the county continued the service at its own expense.

"As the county has grown, the equipment and manpower dedicated to bulk item collection has become increasingly inadequate," Mr. Ecker wrote.

Public Works Department officials looked at other alternatives, including buying trucks and hiring more people, but decided the service could best be provided by private haulers.

They considered setting up a system such as Baltimore County's, in which contracted haulers receive a set fee directly from residents to pick up one or two items.

However, after comparing proposals solicited in October from private haulers, the county determined the cost to residents under a service contracted by the county would be about the same as the cost to residents dealing directly with haulers.

After the county pickup service ends, residents will receive a list of small private haulers when they call the county Bureau of Environmental Services for bulk pickup.

County Council members remain upset about the decision to eliminate the service without notifying them. Most of them have written letters to Mr. Ecker to complain.

"When we offer the community a service and suddenly cut it off, and that's done without any advance warning and without any ability for people to comment, I think that's very bad," said Councilman Paul Farragut, a Democrat who represents west Columbia.

Mr. Farragut and others say they are concerned that ending the service may prompt some residents to dump large items illegally.

"What we don't want is people dropping things in the woods, which happens in other jurisdictions," Mr. Farragut said.

But Darrel Drown, a Republican who represents Ellicott City, said phasing out the service may be a way of reducing the cost of government.

"People are asking the government to lower taxes," he said. "If you do lower our taxes, you've got to reduce spending somewhere."

Mr. Drown said he believes the service was used infrequently.

Although Ms. Tzuker called the pickup "a necessary service for citizens," she said she had used it only twice in 19 years.

Private hauling costs researched by the Public Works Department were not available on Friday.

But waste hauler Browning-Ferris Industries probably would charge about $15 to remove a sofa, said Jim Stone, manager of the company's Anne Arundel-Howard District.

If someone needed a freon-containing refrigerator removed, a separate truck with specially trained staff would be needed, costing the customer between $25 and $45, he said.

In Baltimore County, where the county government sets prices for its three private contractors, residents pay $10 for one item and $15 for two items. The county allows the contractors to negotiate prices to pick up more items.

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