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Hey, Baltimore County, need a trash can? Got $538?


Call this the case of the $538 trash cans.

Baltimore County Council Chairman Douglas B. Riley, R-4th, says he's mystified as to why the county plans to pay that much for trash cans on Eastern Boulevard in Essex.

He asked central services director John E. Lutz Tuesday to look into why the county agreed in a Jan. 25 memorandum to reimburse the Essex Development Corp. $22,828 for replacing 38 trash cans along a six-block stretch. The price includes

$20,444 for new cans and $2,384 for removing the old ones.

The memo was signed by economic development director Richard Story, County Executive Roger B. Hayden and Imelda Liberatore, president of the Essex Development Corp., which receives county grants for revitalization projects.

Mr. Hayden said he probably signed the agreement -- like dozens

he must sign each day -- after it was reviewed and approved by various department heads and legal counsel. But he promised yesterday to look into the issue.

L "It does sound like an awfully high per-unit cost," he said.

Mr. Riley agreed, noting that the cost comes out to $538 per can.

"I don't mean to be nit-picky, but it does seem to be an excessive amount to be spent for trash cans," said Mr. Riley, who was elected last fall along with Mr. Hayden and the rest of the council after pledging to be fiscally conservative.

The 150-pound cans have yet to be installed, but are expected to be provided by Mid Atlantic Products Inc. of Annapolis in a few weeks.

Both Mr. Story and Ms. Liberatore yesterday defended the price for the cans, saying the box-shaped, wood-exterior containers with the muted red finish are not just trash receptacles but are "street furniture."

"It is a lot of money, I agree. But it costs a lot of money for everything these days, and we're trying to stay to a certain design, a certain plan," Ms. Liberatore said.

She said the group decided it was important to buy the same type of cans that were installed in Essex about five years ago as part of a revitalization plan adopted to attract new merchants. The cans are custom-made and may be purchased only from Mid Atlantic.

Mr. Story said the county paid no more for this year's trash cans than for the original models, bought with a state Department of Transportation grant.

He added that the price is similar to what the county is paying for street planters in Woodlawn. Trash receptacles being planned for Parkville may cost even more, he said.

"We think this is a good deal," Mr. Story said.

But neither Mr. Riley nor a handful of pedestrians surveyed in Essex yesterday appeared so convinced.

"I'm absolutely astonished that they paid that much," said Jack Ritz, a steel worker from Middle River, as he eyed one of the old receptacles.

Demetrios Karvounis, working behind behind the counter of his coffee shop, Titus' Luncheonette, said, "I could make you one and sell it for much less."

Mr. Karvounis and Mr. Ritz, interviewed separately, both estimated the cans to be worth $200.

Mr. Riley, a former president of the Towson Business Association, noted that $538 is considerably more than the Towson group paid for trash receptacles in 1988. Those 28 stone-exterior receptacles were bought years ago from Back River Supply Inc. for $286 each, said Susan K. DiLonardo, an association spokeswoman.

Mr. Riley said yesterday that the council may investigate whether the code should be amended to require private agencies such as the Essex Development Corp. to go through competitive bidding if they are going to seek reimbursement from the county for community projects.

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