Most Howard County residents would pay about $50 a year more for trash and recycling services in County Executive Ken Ulman's upcoming budget request, now that a County Council bill combining those services has been approved.
The increase for western county residents would be about $15 less because they don't receive yard waste collection service, Ulman said. If the council agrees to Ulman's proposal, Ulman plans to use some of the fee increase and general fund money to pay for thousands of heavy-duty wheeled recycling bins for residents countywide as part of a long-term strategy to reduce the cost of refuse disposal.
"When you make it easier for people, they will recycle so much more," he said.
The council bill merging funding for the services was one of two contested measures the council approved 3-2 Monday night. In the other, a majority of council members rejected advice from county planners and the Planning Board and approved a zoning change for a Columbia gym owner who wants to build a new facility along U.S. 1 in North Laurel.
The recycling bill moves the $5 million annual cost of collecting recyclables out of the general fund budget, combining it with trash collection costs funded by a separate $175 annual fee taxpayers see on their July property tax bills. The county expects to make $1.4 million selling recyclables this fiscal year, leaving a $3.6 million net cost.
Ulman, a Democrat, plans to unveil his proposed budget for fiscal 2009 to the council on April 22. The council has until June 1 to make cuts.
Council members Courtney Watson, an Ellicott City Democrat, and Greg Fox, a Fulton Republican, voted against Ulman's recycling bill after Fox unsuccessfully tried to amend it.
"I think it's more about raising revenue than combining trash and recycling," Fox said while casting his vote. "It's about finding another way to reach into your wallet."
Yesterday, hearing of Ulman's plan, he said, "It's basically as I predicted."
Watson said she opposes fees, noting that this one was enacted in 1996 by County Executive Charles I. Ecker, a Republican.
The three other council members -- all Democrats -- backed Ulman, arguing that fees and budget cuts should be debated as part of the annual budget review next month.
"This is enabling legislation. The discussion should be on the budget," said Calvin Ball, who represents East Columbia and Jessup.
Ulman has said he is trying to prepare for 2013, when the expiration of a long-term trash contract that ships most county waste by rail to private landfills in Northern Virginia is likely to sharply increase refuse disposal costs. Currently the county pays $33 a ton to dispose of trash, while market rates are $70 a ton, said county public works director James Irvin. By contrast, the county is paid s $55 a ton on average for recyclables.
Ulman said Anne Arundel residents pay $275 a year for trash removal. In Prince George's County, the cost is $380 annually.
But Fox complained that Ulman's bill didn't address costs or reveal that a fee increase could be the result of combining costs for the two services.
On the zoning bill, the council again voted 3-2, with Watson and Fox opposed.
The members approved a zoning regulation change to allow Daniil Kostovetskiy, owner of Emilia's Acrobatics, Gymnastics and Cheerleading of Columbia, to build a larger facility in North Laurel, on land where current zoning would not allow a free-standing building.
County planning officials and the Planning Board had opposed the change on grounds that it would alter an entire category of land use to benefit one person. But the council majority sympathized with Kostovetskiy, who was thrilled, watching from the audience with Sang Oh, his attorney.
"I'm 60 today. It's my birthday present. I'm so excited -- so happy," he said, sporting a necklace with pendants attached that said "60." His students and staff gave it to him, he said.
Ball, too, said he was "strongly in support," and West Columbia Democratic Councilwoman Mary Kay Sigaty said the gym is an "amenity" the area needs.
Even Fox said, "This is definitely a tough one," though he and Watson said they believe the county planners' advice should be followed.