Trash tax working Fewer garbage cans put out while more revenue is being collected.

December 30, 1996

IT HAS BEEN six months since Howard County put a four-can limit on the number of trash cans a family can put out for pick-up and imposed an annual $125-per-household garbage collection tax. All signs so far indicate the new arrangement has been a success. But its unfair nature, charging everyone the same no matter how much trash is put out, means improvements must be made.

County Executive Charles I. Ecker is still wedded to his idea to eventually move to a system in which people pay by the pound to have their trash picked up by the county. Paying by the pound could further reduce the amount of trash put out, but families will balk if they have to pay substantially more than the $125 tax that is already providing the county about $8 million in additional revenue.

Even when county regulations allowed residents to put out as many as eight containers of trash, the average was less than four. The new rules imposed in June have pushed the average slightly below three cans. But Mr. Ecker is convinced people can do even better.

He wants to run a pay-by-the-pound experiment next spring, probably in the village of Wilde Lake, whose residents are being convinced to be the guinea pigs. The experiment will tell him whether the county can obtain reliable equipment that accurately weighs and collects trash on a consistent basis.

What the pilot project won't do is provide an answer to the question of how to sanction a property owner who doesn't pay his garbage bill. As Mr. Ecker observed, you can't stop providing garbage collection service to a home. That would penalize neighbors who must cope with the sight and smells.

Give the county executive credit for recognizing the importance of this issue to Howard County. Ten years ago, the county picked up an average 53,000 tons of trash annually. Last year, it picked up more than 97,000 tons, 22,400 tons of that being recyclables.

A decrease in the amount of trash collected since the $125 tax was imposed, and an increase in the amount of material recycled, indicate Howard County residents are getting the message. But they deserve a fairer method of taxation that rewards those trying harder to reduce household waste. Paying by the pound may be the answer. Mr. Ecker is right to find out.

Pub Date: 12/30/96

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