Legislation was presented to the Prince George's Council yesterday that would open the awarding of county trash contracts to more companies and slash by more than half an environmental surcharge that haulers pay to use the county landfill outside Upper Marlboro.
While haulers united in backing the proposed decrease in the surcharge from $8 to $3, they are divided generally along racial lines on requiring that hauling contracts be put up for bids after they expire rather than automatically renewed, industry officials and others said. Most of the firms holding county trash contracts are minority-owned, and they generally oppose any change in the current system.
County Executive Parris Glendening opposes both measures, according to aide Tim Ayers, who stopped short of saying Glendening would veto them if passed. The bills were recommended after 18 months of study by a solid waste advisory task force.
Said Ayers, "We're against reduction of the environmental surcharge," which haulers pay on top of a $17 a ton fee. "And we would be against renegotiating contracts if residents are satisfied and because of the detrimental effect on minority business."
The county has 52 contracts, currently renewable each year without rebidding, with the 18 trash firms that serve 65,000 households, about two-thirds of the county. All but four of the firms are owned by members of minorities.
"If they hold 98 percent [of the contracts], I should be considered a minority, not them," said task force member Leslie Downs, who is white. Her husband's firm, M.V. Downs & Sons, had the first country contract years ago but now has none.
The bill presented yesterday would change the system back to the way it was in the early 1970s, with all contracts bid competitively. Further, the bill would limit any one company to 25 percent, compared with a third currently.
Contracts range from one for 72 units in the Sugar Hill section of Upper Marlboro, held by a small minority firm, to 11 held by Browning-Ferris Industries, a large national company that is not minority owned, for a total of 15,686 households.
Robert Fletcher, senior county solid waste engineer, said he opposes any change in the current system. "If it ain't broke, why fix it?" he said. "But I can understand the point of the people trying to get in."
Mel Kelly, owner of K&K Trash Removal, an Anne Arundel County-based minority firm that has a contract for 1,400 houses in Prince George's County, complained that the task force wanted to "reinvent the wheel" and said he felt the bill was racially motivated.
There is no disagreement among haulers about the environmental surcharge established in 1983. The haulers charge that the county imposed the fee, which has created a fund of about $10 million, to circumvent TRIM, the voter-imposed freeze on property tax collections that recently was modified.
The fees are being used in part to obtain methane gas from the landfill to heat the nearby county jail, but the county government may use the money for any purpose. The proposed legislation would, in addition to slashing the fee, impose stricter limits on how the money is spent.
Cathy Marx, executive director of the Maryland Solid Waste Association, said her group opposes the surcharge as a revenue-raising "subterfuge." But as for the trash hauling contracts, on which her membership is divided, she said, "our association is not getting involved in that at all."