Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker got another earful last night from residents who want him to rethink a proposal to charge residents a minimum annual fee of $100 to remove a bag of trash each week.
"I am trying to be polite but I am so angry about this fee," said Sarah Peach of Columbia. "It's a tax. Calling it a fee is a lie. This fee is nothing less than extortion, and the last I heard, that is theft. I am tired of government reaching into my pocket."
Ms. Peach was among a crowd of more than 80 people who attended last night's hearing at Centennial High School -- the third of four hearings Mr. Ecker has scheduled on a proposal that would make Howard the first county in the state to charge residents on the basis of the amount of trash they generate.
"Find another way [to pay for trash removal] and get out of my pocket!" said Ms. Peach to scattered applause.
Fred Polcari of Ellicott City said he thought the trash plan was a ruse.
If the county had said it needed to raise taxes for trash removal, there would have been a public outcry, he said. But after $H residents look at this "cockamamie scheme," they plead for a tax increase instead, he said.
"Let's not aggravate the people of Howard County," he told Mr. Ecker. "We believe in the process. We're committed to recycling. Don't aggravate us."
To pay for trash removal and not have it be tax deductible really rankles, Mr. Polcari said. The county is wealthy enough that it can afford a tax increase to pay for trash removal, he said, adding that he believed residents will support such a tax.
Walter Baxter of Ellicott City also urged Mr. Ecker to raise taxes rather than have a system under which residents would have to tag their garbage with stickers purchased from county government or retail stores.
Mr. Baxter, who complained also about what he called an 87 percent reduction in the amount of trash he is allowed to generate each week, told Mr. Ecker: "We'll eventually pay. But [a tax] is quite preferable to having to run to a [convenience store] at 10 o'clock at night to buy another sticker" for an extra bag of trash.
Betsy Hyman of Ellicott City was one of the few who felt the trash proposal was modest, although she, too, told the executive she prefers a tax to a fee. Ms. Hyman said the county proposal pales in comparison to the one used by the city of Seattle, where she lived recently.
There, residents had a single trash can with a serial number on it and could get it emptied only once a week, she said. Recycling was mandatory, and residents could recycle as much they wanted.
"We reused bags, containers, boxes," she said. "We recycled. We composted food waste in the basement in a worm box. I am shocked to find that [Howard residents] are putting out eight bags of trash each week. What are you all putting in the trash each week?"
Janet Brown of Ellicott City also said the trash proposal is reasonable and attainable. "The problem is not a tax or a fee, but how we can change our lives," she said. "I can't dream of where anyone could generate eight bags of garbage in a week's time. We're going to have to do a lot of thinking and change our ways."
The last of four public hearings on the trash proposal will be held today at 7:30 p.m. at Glenelg High School, 14025 Burnt Woods Road.