Howard seeks new limits on trash pick-ups Ecker proposes fee for collections in exchange for tax cut

Executive cites rising costs

Head of waste board says the proposal doesn't go far enough

January 30, 1996|By Dan Morse | Dan Morse,SUN STAFF

Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker -- financially pressed by the rapidly rising cost of picking up residents' trash -- wants to set the strictest limits on garbage pick-ups in the Baltimore area.

Starting in July, residents would be able to set out only four

30-gallon containers of trash each week under a plan announced yesterday by Mr. Ecker. A year later, the limit would be dropped to three containers a week.

The residential trash limits -- part of a plan that includes a new $125 trash tax partially offset by a small cut in Howard's property tax rate -- are Mr. Ecker's answer to skyrocketing garbage disposal costs and decreasing gains in county tax revenues.

He hopes to increase recycling and generate up to $4 million a year with the plan. "Clearly we have to do something now," he said.

The proposed Howard fees and limits are part of a trend nationwide and in parts of Maryland, said Robin Depot, executive director of the Northeast Maryland Waste Disposal Authority in Baltimore.

"It's taking solid waste and treating it like a utility," Ms. Depot said. "It's really a way to say, 'If you generate the trash, then you're going to pay for the service.' "

In the Baltimore area, Anne Arundel County charges a separate trash fee of $198 a year per household for picking up eight 30-gallon containers per week. Prince George's and Montgomery also have separate fees.

Baltimore City and Baltimore County don't have separate trash fees. Carroll and Harford counties rely on private haulers who have various fees and limits.

In Howard, Mr. Ecker's plan immediately drew criticism from the chairman of the county's Solid Waste Funding Assessment Board for not going far enough.

The board last year recommended to Mr. Ecker a much stricter "pay-as-you-throw" policy that would have charged homeowners for each bag. In Maryland, that system is only used by the towns of Aberdeen and Chevy Chase.

The board's chairman, John Hollerbach, said Mr. Ecker's limits are not strict enough because the average Howard citizen generates only about three containers of trash per week. "We had an opportunity to do something unique here and we didn't do it," Mr. Hollerbach said.

County officials acknowledged they also may have difficulty enforcing the plan at the nearly 10,000 townhouses and grouped homes in Howard that share trash collection areas.

Moreover, the plan likely will upset apartment dwellers and owners throughout the county and businesses in historic Ellicott City.

Apartments will have to use private trash haulers for the first time, which would probably lead to rent increases. Historic district businesses will have to begin paying for county trash pick-ups -- as much as $500 a year; businesses in other county areas now pay for private haulers.

Mr. Ecker will introduce his proposal next week. Two of five council members said yesterday they support the proposal. But Darrel E. Drown, council chairman, said the county's illegal dumping laws might have to be strengthened to discourage residents from dumping extra trash on roadsides or in garbage containers behind businesses.

Currently, Howard residents -- like those in Baltimore City and Baltimore County -- pay for garbage pickup through their property and income taxes.

Mr. Ecker's plan would fall less heavily on those with higher-priced homes, according to figures provided by Howard officials yesterday. That's because the $125 per house trash fee would be partially offset by a property tax cut of up to 4 cents from Howard's current rate of $2.59 per $100 of assessed value.

The owner of a $250,000 home would pay $125 a year in trash taxes but receive a $40 cut in property taxes -- for a total bill of $85. But the owner of a $170,000 home -- about the county's average price -- would pay $125 a year in trash taxes but receive only a $28 cut in property taxes, for a total bill of $97.

Mr. Ecker said he would create a fund of more than $40,000 to pay the $125 trash tax for poorer homeowners.

The trash tax will not pay for all of Howard's solid waste disposal. County tax revenues still will be used to fund recycling pickup and debt payments on landfill construction and repairs, officials said yesterday.

Within nine years, Mr. Ecker said, the county will require $25 million more per year for a trash disposal program than it spends today.

But his plan will not generate that much additional money, said Mr. Hollerbach.

He favored a plan with no property tax breaks and a $100 trash tax. Residents would get one free bag or container of trash collected each week. For additional pickup, residents could buy stickers for a 30-gallon bag ($1.50) or a 13-gallon "kitchen can" bag (75 cents).

But Mr. Ecker said "pay as you throw" is too inconvenient for residents -- particularly having to drive to buy extra stickers. More than 100 residents told him they hated the idea during a series of public hearings late last year.

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