Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker said last night that he will start immediately to refine a proposal to charge residents a minimum annual fee of $100 to remove a bag of trash weekly but that the public should not expect results "overnight."
"I will meet with staff to consider our options in thinking through the plan" to make Howard the first county in the state to charge residents for the amount of trash they generate, Mr. Ecker said.
"We will be trying to be fair and equitable to the most people possible. But it won't happen overnight, though," he said at last night's fourth and final hearing on the trash proposal.
Mr. Ecker said that he expects to bring a trash proposal to the County Council in late December for action in January.
The plan he brings to the council will have two goals, he said. It will suggest a way to raise money to pay the county's soaring trash removal costs and will provide incentives to encourage residents to recycle more and throw away less.
The plan given to Mr. Ecker Sept. 1 by the county's Solid Waste Funding Assessment Board sought to achieve the first objective by imposing the minimum trash fee; and to reach the second goal by charging residents another $1.50 a bag if more than one bag of trash is discarded in a week.
At all four hearings, most residents have told Mr. Ecker they prefer a deductible tax to a nondeductible fee, and they fear the extra charge per bag will turn their neighborhoods into dumping grounds for people who refuse to pay the surcharge.
Last night, a new theme surfaced among the more than 80 people who attended the hearing at Glenelg High School. Several said they want the county to get out of the trash business and let them make their own arrangements for trash removal.
Mr. Ecker said he will consider that option along with others in the next few days, adding that no agreement has been reached on the assessment board's proposal. He said that while his preference is not to increase taxes, he cannot promise that he won't.
Even if he keeps the recommended minimum fee and per bag surcharges, details will have to be worked out as to how to deal with "flag lots on one driveway, townhouses with one collection point, and apartments" that use a single trash bin, Mr. Ecker said.
"We need to determine how we can control the number of bags per family when we have a common collection point," he said.
At earlier hearings, Mr. Ecker had been encouraged to raise the property tax to cover the increased cost of trash removal. Last night, he was urged to raise the piggyback tax -- the percentage of a person's state income tax that is paid to a county. In Howard, that percentage is 50 percent.
"An addition to the piggyback tax may be the curse whose time has come," said West Friendship resident John J. Lentz. "It can reach all citizens in proportion to their capacity to pay, and arguably in proportion to the waste they generate," he said.
Alan Magan of Dayton, who said he had dealt with trash problems on a national level for 18 years, urged the county to get out of the trash business altogether. He warned against exporting trash elsewhere, as the county plans to do in 1997, saying all landfills leak and the county will end up paying for cleanups "up and down the East Coast."
The county expects to spend $42.4 million on trash removal in the next 23 months, according to a fact sheet. If property taxes alone were used to pay for trash removal, the rate would have to be increased 25 cents per $100 of assessed value by the year 2002, the fact sheet indicated. If that happened, the owner of a $200,000 house would pay $200 more a year in property taxes.