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Assessment board ponders ways to pay for trash collection


Howard County residents will finally get a chance to talk trash in September.

The cost of collecting 6,000 tons of curbside trash from county residences each month is rising, said members of the county's Solid Waste Funding Assessment Board, who are seeking ways to pay for increase.

By mid-August, they will give County Executive Charles I. Ecker a plan for ways to cover the higher costs, said John P. Hollerbach, the board's chairman. At least one public hearing will be held for residents in September before Mr. Ecker makes a recommendation to the County Council. No date has been set for the hearings.

If legislation is proposed, additional public hearings will be held.

"We want to get people in the frame of mind where they are going to stop putting out four barrels of trash a day, because we are just running out of space and the costs of exporting the waste is steadily increasing," Mr. Hollerbach said. "We're just not going to have the room to put trash soon."

The problem is the increasing costs of shipping trash out of the county, the decline in proceeds from fees at the county's Alpha Ridge Landfill in Marriottsville and the cost of cleaning up Alpha Ridge and two closed dumps in Ellicott City and Woodbine. Possible ways to raise money: trash bag sticker fees, annual levies or higher taxes.

Howard is the first county in the state to consider moving to a system of fees -- perhaps $2 or $3 a bag or can of trash, if approved by Mr. Ecker and the County Council.

Most officials say they are not sure which plan would be best for residents and for dealing with the problems of hauling trash, but they agree something must be done soon.

"At this point, with the deteriorating condition of our landfill and the overload of trash we're getting, we don't have a choice. The choice we're facing is to come up with a system to deal with the problem," said Pat Dornan, a board member who is also president of the Howard County Taxpayers Association. "We just don't have anywhere else at this point to dump our trash."

The Alpha Ridge landfill is scheduled to close Jan. 1, 1997, leaving enough space to hold a year's worth of the county's trash -- about 400 million pounds -- for an emergency situation, Mr. Dornan said.

"People don't realize how much they are really throwing away when they put trash in a bag and leave it out on their curb," Mr. Dornan said. "They put it out on the street and forget about it. . . . They say, 'Oh well, it's not my problem anymore; I did my part by putting it out.' But it's everybody's problem because we all have to end up paying for the pickup and processing of all that trash."

Mr. Dornan said he would not support a tax increase to cover the estimated $16.1 million cost to export the county's trash by the year 1998. His concern is fairness.

"If one guy throws out one bag of trash and his neighbor throws away two, it's not really fair to charge them both the same amount," Mr. Dornan said. "Those citizens who are using more services should pay for those additional services."

With a per-bag or per-can program, a specially marked bag would have to be used for curbside trash. That bag could be bought at local stores, and the owner would be charged per bag for collection. A sticker system would also require a per-bag payment. A trash customer would buy stickers to place on his or her trash bags or cans.

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