After getting a maelstrom of criticism, County Executive Charles I. Ecker backed off yesterday from a proposal to end bulk trash collection -- at least for a while.
The executive said the county will continue picking up large trash item such as appliances and furniture every 2 1/2 months until June 30.
The criticism came immediately from County Council members and village managers in Columbia following a Nov. 30 announcement that the county planned to end the bi-monthly service on Jan. 25.
"A lot of people felt there was not enough warning," Mr. Ecker said yesterday.
After June 30, residents will have to contact private haulers to dispose of bulk items or wait for community service days, when the county will continue to make large trash bins available for disposal of large items, Mr. Ecker said.
"I am very glad and very pleased that he is going to continue with bulk trash pickups" for the remainder of the fiscal year, said Councilman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd. "He is doing the right thing."
Mr. Gray had contended that Mr. Ecker could not end the trash service without council approval since it was included in the current county budget. Mr. Gray wrote County Solicitor Barbara Cook Dec. 15, asking for a legal opinion as to whether the county executive can refuse to fund a budgeted item without first obtaining council approval.
Although he has yet to receive that opinion, Mr. Gray assumes that Ms. Cook, who represents both the executive and the council in legal matters, talked to the executive about his request.
The executive might have been able to act on his own if a fiscal emergency existed, but none existed in this instance, Mr. Gray said.
Mr. Gray said he expects to hear debate on continuing the service past the current fiscal year whether or not Mr. Ecker includes it in the fiscal 1995 budget.
"If it's a service people want, we may have to work out something with the executive," Mr. Gray said. "We have to look at the array of services [now provided by the county] to see which we want to continue in the coming year."
Earlier, Mr. Ecker told council members and village managers he was planning to end an estimated 2,000 annual bulk trash pick-ups as a cost-cutting measure. The service is provided by ++ two county employees who use a rented truck. The program began with a federal job training grant in the mid-1970s and later was taken over by the county.
Mr. Ecker said he made the decision on his own to continue service to the end of the fiscal year. It was not just Mr. Gray who was writing letters, but every council member and every village manager, Mr. Ecker said.
The problem raised particular concern in Columbia, where the Columbia Association and village associations regularly take action against property owners who leave old appliances, automobile parts or household fixtures out in the open.
"I'm glad he's continuing it, and I hope that the County Council can convince him to continue it further," said Jane Parrish, Hickory Ridge village manager.
Ms. Parrish said Mr. Ecker's proposal to provide roll-off containers for "community clean-up days" would offer only limited help.
If the container were placed at the Hawthorn Neighborhood Center, for instance, only nearby Hawthorn residents could carry their old furniture or appliances to the site, she said.
"If they live down in Clemens Crossing, and they had a truck to put it in, then they could haul it to the landfill," and would not need the service, Ms. Parrish said.
Ms. Parish said she was already alarmed by the number of people who are apparently dumping illegally in Columbia, and fears ending the service would only make the problem worse.
"Why would those people pay $30 or $40 to have something hauled away?" she asked. "I think there will be a large percentage of people who will take the easiest, cheapest way out, and that's to just dump it."