By-the-bag trash levy draws fire Residents fear widespread dumping if plan is adopted; 'Pay as you throw' concept; Speakers at hearing back program aims, but not fee system


Charging county residents for trash service by the bag may be trendy and may encourage recycling, but it's a bad idea, said many residents at the first public meeting on the proposal last night.

About 70 people attended the meeting at Howard High School in southern Ellicott City, and most of them sharply criticized the "pay-as-you-throw" concept proposed Sept. 1 by the county's Solid Waste Funding Assessment Board.

If County Executive Charles I. Ecker and the County Council adopt the board's proposal, Howard would be the first county in the state to charge residents for trash pickup based on how much they throw away. Residents wouldn't be charged for recycling, which the entire program is intended to encourage.

"Unless you have a Dumpster patrol or trash police, you're going to have [illegal] dumping wherever there are Dumpsters," warned Dick Buczek of Ellicott City.

Many echoed a fear of widespread dumping, and others complained that a county fee would not be deductible from federal income tax returns, as are property taxes. A few objected to the county putting limits on how much trash they could put out and to being forced to recycle.

The waste board urged that the county begin charging $100 a year for trash pickup. It also recommended limiting residents to one 30-gallon trash bag a week and charging them $1.50 for each additional bag with a county sticker as proof of payment. Smaller 13-gallon kitchen bags would cost 75 cents under the proposal.

Marilyn Watson of Scaggsville presented officials with a petition signed by 100 in her community who opposed the idea, which she said had received little attention in the media. As an alternative to a per-bag fee, she, like several others, said she would prefer a tax increase.

"This would enable the taxpayers of Howard County to put out their eight units of trash" each week, she said.

But most at the meeting said they agreed with much of what the board and county officials are trying to accomplish: reducing the amount of trash residents generate and encouraging recycling. The method proposed to do that is what drew their objections.

"I think recycling should be made mandatory," said Evelyn Lisle of Elkridge. But, she said, she would rather pay what Anne Arundel and Montgomery counties charge -- about $200 a year -- than put up with illegal dumping and the inconvenience of running to grocery or convenience stores to pick up trash stamps.

Ecker undecided

Mr. Ecker, who attended the meeting along with county waste officials, said he, too, was concerned about illegal dumping.

"I don't want to hire a bunch of trash cops," he said.

Mr. Ecker said he has not made up his mind whether the county should adopt the proposed trash fees, but he did say he wasn't keen on the idea of mandatory recycling.

"Mandatory recycling sounds great, but how do you enforce it?" he said. "I don't see a good way to make it mandatory."

But Mr. Ecker and other officials say that something must change about the way the county handles its trash service. Collection, disposal and other waste programs such as recycling now cost the county $8.6 million annually, and officials expect that to increase to $25.7 million by 2005.

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