Council seeks to toughen trash plan Members propose pickup limit of 3 containers a week

Goal is more recycling

Residents who wish additional service would pay extra

February 27, 1996|By Dan Morse | Dan Morse,SUN STAFF

The Howard County Council is moving to toughen County Executive Charles I. Ecker's proposed trash pickup limit from four to three containers a week per household -- and some council members are vowing to mandate a two-container limit by the summer of next year.

"The county is not being aggressive enough," Councilman Dennis R. Schrader said during a council meeting yesterday on Mr. Ecker's trash plan, which is to go into effect this summer.

Mr. Schrader and at least two others on the five-member council indicated they will push for tighter limits on trash pickups to encourage more recycling.

Residents who want extra garbage pickup would have to pay for the extra containers collected -- under a form of "pay-as-you-throw" system, now used in the Baltimore area only by the town of Aberdeen.

The council will cast preliminary votes on the plan Monday, with details to be ironed out during its May budget hearings.

The council also may alter Mr. Ecker's proposed annual $125 per household trash fee, and a corresponding property tax cut of 4 cents per $100 of assessed value from Howard's current rate of $2.59 per $100 of assessment.

The council may ditch the tax cut -- which would save about $33 for the owner of a house with an assessed value of $205,000 -- and go to a slightly lower trash fee.

The result would be that many Howard businesses, which now have their trash picked up privately, would not get a tax break as a byproduct of the trash plan.

Last month, Mr. Ecker -- faced with Howard's skyrocketing trash disposal costs -- proposed the trash pickup fee and the four-container limit, which would be the strictest limit in the Baltimore region.

The containers can be cans or bags rated at 30 gallons -- the standard "yard" size. The average Howard household now puts out about 3 1/2 such containers of trash a week.

Because of that, a council majority said yesterday that the four-container limit is too high and would not encourage recycling.

"We have to encourage recycling," said council Chairman Darrel Drown. "We want people to know there is a cost associated with trash."

Mr. Drown, Mr. Schrader, Councilwoman Mary C. Lorsung and, possibly, Councilman C. Vernon Gray will push for stricter limits, according to comments made during the meeting and in later interviews.

Warning issued

The fifth council member, Charles C. Feaga, said residents should not have to alter their habits so completely when it comes to garbage.

It "shouldn't be so strict that you have to sit there and fold everything you have" to fit into the containers. He warned against a two-container limit, which Mr. Drown said he would like to begin in July 1997.

"Maybe three is all we can come down to, realistically," Mr. Feaga said.

With any county trash limits, there also are enforcement concerns -- particularly at the nearly 10,000 townhouses and grouped homes in Howard that share trash collection areas.

Mr. Drown said much stricter "pay-as-you-throw" measures are down the road, when the county can monitor each home's refuse through standard-sized containers and bar-code recording devices. He also hopes that new technology will reduce disposal costs.

"Who knows? You may get those little microbes that are eating the trash," he offered during the meeting.

In Howard, population growth and new environmental standards are driving up garbage disposal costs. Within nine years, county officials estimate yearly costs of $16 million more than the current level of $10 million.

Residents angry

Still, telling the public to pay more for less service has not been an easy sell.

During public hearings on the proposals, residents have become so angry mad they've applauded anyone speaking against the plan -- even if the speakers contradicted the position of the person clapping.

The debate started last fall when Mr. Ecker's Solid Waste Funding Assessment Board recommended a $100 yearly fee and a "pay-as-you-throw" plan that would have allowed each household just one free bag or container of trash each week.

For additional pickups, residents could buy stickers for a 30-gallon bag ($1.50) or for a 13-gallon "kitchen can" bag (75 cents).

Faced with resident opposition to collection limits, Mr. Ecker went with the more conservative four-container plan.

But at a hearing on Mr. Ecker's plan last week, the other side of the argument showed up. Some residents complained that Mr. Ecker's plan did not go far enough to encourage recycling.

Mr. Schrader said the council yesterday was reacting, in part, to those concerns.

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