Bulking down on trash pickups

December 22, 1993

After the administration of County Executive Charles I. Ecker decided to end the local government's free bulk-trash pickup service as of Jan. 26, you might have thought the county was pulling the plug on free public education, judging by the semi-hysterical reaction of certain citizens and politicians.

One group of Howard residents, upset over the move, even sent a poison-pen letter to Mr. Ecker -- though one of the complainers confessed that she has used the curbside service only twice in 19 years!

To be sure, Mr. Ecker might deserve to be trashed for killing the program without letting many people in on the decision. He also failed to gauge just how close to their hearts some Howard Countians seem to hold bulk-trash pickups.

A better selling job before the fact probably would have placated the critics -- the bulk of them anyway. The executive admitted as much himself.

But the angry reaction goes too far. The detractors should consider the example of neighboring Baltimore County, where free bulk-trash pickup became a casualty of County Executive Roger Hayden's 1992 budget cuts. The service has continued smoothly, however, with private haulers charging a small fee per item. What's more, Baltimore County has stayed involved in the operation by maintaining a list of haulers and evaluating their work every six months.

Howard apparently will have a similar system, supplying names of private haulers to residents who call the Bureau of Environmental Services for bulk pickup.

Meanwhile, a few County Council members have expressed the fear that some citizens might try to dump large items illegally, now that the free service is about to stop. Their apprehension is not at all unreasonable.

Here's where Mr. Ecker and other officials can make up for their previous poor performance in this matter by mounting a thorough public education campaign about the future of bulk-trash pickup. The effort should include the information that the privatization will provide better service to county residents and save taxpayer dollars.

As Republican Councilman Darrel Drown of Ellicott City noted, if people want lower taxes, then spending must be cut somewhere.

And one way for the county to make an eminently sensible cut is to "bulk down" on free bulk pickups.

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