Proposal to repeal tax on trash fails in 4-1 vote Issue likely to re-emerge in campaign for executive

March 03, 1998|By Craig Timberg | Craig Timberg,SUN STAFF

The push to repeal Howard County's $125 trash tax died in the County Council last night, but the issue is likely to return as part of Councilman Dennis R. Schrader's campaign for county executive.

"There's more than one way to skin a cat," said Schrader, a Republican who sponsored the repeal effort, after the meeting.

The proposal failed in a 4-to-1 vote. Only Schrader voted for repeal of the tax, which has raised about $8.4 million a year since the County Council approved it in 1996.

Council Chairman Charles C. Feaga, a West Friendship Republican and Schrader's rival in the county executive race, said Howard politicians have long tried to win votes by cutting taxes in election years.

"It won't do any good," Feaga said. "I don't think they're going to be fooled by dropping it down this year and bringing it back the next."

Last night's vote was the second time in just a week that Feaga and Schrader differed on a major vote.

The week before, they split on a zoning vote that would allow the Rouse Co. to build 1,400 homes in North Laurel, the heart of Schrader's council district. Hundreds of neighbors opposed the project, arguing it would overwhelm their communities with new children and cars.

But Feaga supported the rezoning, which passed, 3 to 2. Schrader opposed it, a vote that likely won him some supporters and an image of sensitivity toward growth -- a top issue in fast-growing Howard.

Schrader, who voted to impose the trash tax in 1996, proposed its repeal in January, arguing that Howard's $12 million surplus shows the county is collecting too much in taxes.

Last night, he said, "Now that we've got some better times, I think it would be better to give it back."

County Executive Charles I. Ecker, a Republican who is running for governor based on his fiscal record in Howard, fought Schrader's repeal effort from the beginning.

He said the trash tax raised needed money, improved awareness of garbage costs and placed the burden for trash collection on the homeowners who use it. Businesses must contract privately for trash collection.

Feaga and Councilman Darrel E. Drown -- two Republicans usually wary of new taxes and spending -- stuck with Ecker on the trash tax, as did the council's two Democrats, Mary C. Lorsung and C. Vernon Gray.

"The surplus may be there this year but not next," said Gray, who voted against the trash tax in 1996 but last night called its proposed repeal "unwise."

Feaga said he would rather use the county's surplus to pay off debt and prevent new borrowing, as Ecker plans.

tTC "I think this is a great opportunity to do something for the debt service," Feaga said.

Anne Arundel, Prince George's and Montgomery counties have trash fees. Neither Baltimore nor Baltimore County has one.

Also last night, the council voted unanimously to adopt guidelines allowing developers to build narrower and more curvy roads in housing projects.

Administration officials argued that the new roads standards would make motorists slow down by eliminating the long, flat straightaways common in developments built in recent decades.

Current county standards require a minimum width of 24 feet for all roads.

The new standards would allow streets that serve fewer than 20 homes to be as narrow as 18 feet. Roads serving fewer than 25 homes could be as narrow as 22 feet. All other roads still would have to be 24 feet wide.

The proposal angered some community activists -- particularly opponents of the 98-home Big Branch Overlook project in Dayton. They said narrower roads would only make speeding more dangerous -- not less common.

But council members, who get frequent complaints about speeders in residential neighborhoods, sided with the administration.

"The main purpose," said Drown, "is to make these neighborhood roads, in the west and in the east, safer."

Pub Date: 3/03/98

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