After four months of problems, Montgomery County has fired the firm that made collections for its newspaper recycling program.

Citing "poor contract performance" by National Recovery Industry Inc., the county announced last week that Montgomery's five-year contract with the firm had been terminated only four months after the program began.

Soggy stacks of newspapers, bundled by county homeowners, lay decomposing on county street corners, according to officials. James Baker, chief of the Montgomery Department of Environmental Protection, said the program was "plagued with miscollection."

Baker also said that county auditors' attempts to audit books of the Columbia-based nonprofit company were futile "because of the firm's inadequate financial records."

Ray Jordan Jr., president of National Recovey Industry (NRI), did not return a reporter's telephone calls.

The firm that buys the old newspapers the county hired NRI to collect is now also picking up the newspapers from the 68,000 homes targeted for the program.

The company -- Mason-Dixon Recycling, a subsidiary of Garden State Paper of Richmond, Va. -- trucks the paper to mills in New Jersey for recycling.

County officials initiated the mandatory collection program to prevent the potentially useful paper from winding up on the county's towering landfill piles. Montgomery County is plagued by lack of landfill space.

Citizen response to the program, which carries a $50 penalty for non-compliance, was overwhelming. Montgomery County residents were often outraged when the newspapers they set out were not picked up.

Complaints poured into the county, said officials. Employes of NRI also groused to county officials because they were not being paid on time.

"The whole thing was giving recycling a bad name," commented Rob Arner, who worked for NRI.

When Mason-Dixon took over the collection task, it retained all 30 persons who had worked for NRI Inc. Baker said that, "For the first time since we started, all our routes were covered on time."

He said that collections were slowed by last week's snow, and that "if the weather's bad we won't collect. We'd rather miss a collection than have a truck wreck."