Per-bag trash fee is urged

THE BALTIMORE SUN

A Howard County trash-financing panel has recommended that the county begin charging residents for each bag of trash collected -- setting the stage for Howard to become the first county in the state to follow the latest national trend in reducing waste.

In a report delivered Friday to Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker, the county's Solid Waste Funding Assessment Board recommends that the county charge each county household $100 a year, beginning in July, for once-a-week trash pickup.

As of January 1997, the report recommends, the county should pick up only a single 30-gallon bag per week for the $100 annual fee and begin charging $1.50 for each additional 30-gallon bag or 75 cents for each 13-gallon "kitchen can" bag.

Howard residents who don't get curbside trash pickup, such as apartment dwellers, would be charged a flat annual fee of $85 for any amount of trash.

The county would sell stickers at retail stores and government offices to put on trash bags as proof of payment, according to the panel's proposal.

Howard would not charge for picking up residents' trash under its recycling program, and the county's goal in inaugurating trash fees would be to increase recycling.

"It's a good report and I like the concept, particularly the incentive to get people to recycle," Mr. Ecker said after receiving the report in a closed-door meeting with members of the trash board.

County homes and businesses divert about 30 percent of their waste into county government and private recycling programs. State law requires 20 percent, and Mr. Ecker said Howard is capable of a 50 percent recycling rate.

The trash-financing board -- whose members come from business, government, activists representing landfill neighbors and a county taxpayer advocacy group -- was unanimous in its recommendations, said Chairman Jack Hollerbach. Mr. Ecker and the board plan to announce the report's recommendations at a news conference Tuesday morning.

The main problem faced by the board was how the county can meet its skyrocketing trash costs. The report says that between this fiscal year and 2005, the county's annual waste-management costs will rise from $8.6 million to $25.7 million.

Most of that $17 million increase will come from the cost of shipping the county's trash out of the region, which is to begin in January 1997.

About $3 million of the increase will service the debt on $42.4 million worth of work needed to clean up and to prevent pollution at the county's three landfills -- in Marriottsville, Woodbine and Ellicott City.

The board recommends that those environmental costs be paid out of the county's general fund, which is fed mainly by property and income taxes. Future trash pickup and disposal services, however, would be funded from the proposed annual and per-bag fees -- with the county's trash recycling program financed by county general funds.

"The easy way out is to do like Anne Arundel and Montgomery counties and charge a flat $200 a year," Mr. Hollerbach said. Charging by amount of trash, he said, will reduce the county's waste and save on trash-hauling and disposal costs.

The only other jurisdiction in Maryland that charges by the

amount of trash is Aberdeen in Harford County. Its residents buy stickers at 80 cents for a 30-gallon bag and 40 cents for a 13-gallon bag. The money pays only for landfill disposal -- not collection, for which there is no charge.

In most of the state's large suburban counties -- Anne Arundel, Montgomery and Prince George's -- residents pay an annual fee of as much as $200 for trash service. Trash collection and disposal in those counties is self-supporting and doesn't use income and property tax revenue as Howard's current trash service does.

"I think it's a great example to set for the rest of the state," said Daniel L. Jerrems, chairman of the Baltimore Recycling Coalition. "It will definitely encourage recycling, and, almost as importantly, it will encourage waste reduction."

Mr. Jerrems noted that Seattle, with the country's largest volume-based trash-fee program, "saw regular trash drop in half almost immediately. People started paying a lot more attention to what they brought into their home, and they started being more careful consumers in the amount of packaging they were bringing into their home."

Among the drawbacks to the trash-fee idea is that some residents may try to evade paying by dumping garbage illegally. To combat that, the board recommended that county police aggressively enforce existing state litter control laws.

Other areas that have instituted volume-based trash fees have seen some increase in illegal dumping, said Brenda A. Platt, director of materials recovery for the nonprofit Institute for local Self-Reliance in Washington, which promotes recycling and waste reduction by offering technical assistance to local governments and businesses.

"When it first comes on-line, there has been an initial increase in dumping, but communities have dealt with that effectively," Ms. Platt said. In Perkasie, Pa., for instance, offenders' names were picked from envelopes in their illegal trash and published in the local newspaper, she said. In Florida offenders' driver's licenses were suspended.

Mr. Ecker said he won't decide which of the committee's recommendations to accept until he hears from county citizens.

Public meetings on the trash-financing proposals are scheduled for Sept. 27 at Howard High School, Oct. 5 at Hammond High School, Oct. 11 at Centennial High School and Oct. 12 at Glenelg High School. All meetings are to begin at 7:30 p.m.

The County Council also would have to approve the proposed system, known as "pay-as-you-throw." Barring a public outcry over the proposal, it seems likely the panel will approve it. Last year, Mr. Ecker and the council approved most of another advisory panel's recommendations on how to dispose of county trash.

That waste plan is unique because it doesn't call for erecting a new major waste facility, such as a landfill cell or incinerator.

Instead, the 10-year plan would begin by building a waste-transfer facility next year. The county then would pay a commercial hauler to ship the trash from that facility to a private out-of-county landfill or incinerator, and temporarily close the Alpha Ridge Landfill in Marriottsville in 1997.

That would be followed, officials hope, by an agreement within three years with other Baltimore-area jurisdictions to share disposal facilities, one of which could be Alpha Ridge.

That could involve a regional incinerator, with possible sites on Anne Arundel County's Fort Meade and in Baltimore City, or a regional landfill. Howard already has made a pact with Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties for the operation of a regional yard-waste composting facility set to open in April, just inside the Howard County line in Dorsey.

In addition to the per-bag trash collection fee, the board recommends that the county pick up yard waste such as brush and tree trimmings free of charge, but charge 50 cents per 30-gallon bag for grass clippings. That fee is intended to encourage homeowners to use clippings as a mulch or to compost the clippings themselves.

PROPOSED TRASH FEES

Basic annual service fee (includes one 30-gallon bag per week):

* $100 for houses with curbside pickup.

* $85 for homes with trash bin services (apartments, condominiums).

Cost of stickers (to be affixed to additional trash bags):

* $1.50 for 30-gallon bags.

* 75 cents for 13-gallon bags.

* 50 cents for 30-gallon bag of grass clippings (summer only).

No charge for recyclable bottles, cans and paper.

No charge for compostable brush, tree cuttings and Christmas trees.

0 SOURCE: Solid Waste Funding Assessment Board

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