Alan Hardman is a politician who remains obssessed with garbage.

Eliminating the city's $4 monthly garbage fee is an issue that has driven Hardman since he took his oath of office to the Salt Lake City Council in January. Hardman, now with five months' experience, won election last year to his Central City seat on a platform of fiscal conservancy.Since his election, Hardman has harangued his colleagues about the garbage fee, which the council imposed last year.

And Thursday night, Hardman got at least part of his wish when the council approved an ordinance that reduces the fee. The battle isn't over, however, because Mayor Palmer DePaulis vetoed that ordinance Friday. (ee related story on B1.)

Although Hardman garnered enough council support to at least reduce the fee, he appears to be a somewhat lonely advocate in the fight against the fee. The outpouring of complaints expected last year when the council first discussed the fee never materialized. The fee has been in place for a year, but only two people at a council budget hearing last week even mentioned garbage. Most speakers were much more concerned about the level of fire protection.

Councilman Tom Godfrey questions whether the garbage fee is as volatile an issue as Hardman thinks.

The mayor, who himself lives in Hardman's district, said he hasn't heard the same complaints against the garbage fee.

DePaulis recommended the fee last year, when the city was inaugurating new, improved pickup service with mechanized trucks. While he admitted the fee could be perceived as a tax, the mayor said the fee is more equitable because it charges the users of a service.

As the council labored through grueling budget sessions, scrutinizing DePaulis' $80 million general fund budget department by department, Hardman has proposed four ways to come up with $1.5 million needed to eliminate the garbage fee.

None of his plans, which proposed some controversial cuts like scaling back and eliminating the city's economic development division, generated much support from his colleagues.

While no council members are really fond of the garbage charge, most have other priorities in a grim budget year. Roselyn Kirk wants to keep two east-side fire stations open until a new, consolidated station is built, and a majority of speakers at the council's budget public hearing pleaded with the city to do so. DePaulis proposed closing one station while construction is under way.

Hardman is particularly opposed to the garbage fee since it doesn't pay 100 percent of the costs of the city's new mechanized garbage collection program. He warns that someday the council will be forced to hike the monthly fee to $6.

"I don't like the $4 fee personally, and I'm going to protest the loudest when it is increased," he said.

Hardman said the garbage fee is a particularly harsh tax burden for his constituents, many of whom are elderly or live on fixed incomes.

"As I was campaigning, the people weren't aware of it until I pointed it out to them. All I had to do is just mention it, and I could count on at least a half an hour," he said.

But he admits that many people have kept their outrage bottled up, because they think government is unresponsive. "You pay your taxes, and just hope it provides services," he said. He thinks the garbage fee has helped fuel the fires of the tax limitation initiative.

No matter what issue is in front of the council, Hardman brings up the garbage fee.

"I'm not convinced it's good public policy. If I don't say something and do something about it now, it's a dead issue. The longer it's there, it becomes entrenched," Hardman said.