The Alameda County Waste Management Authority wants to impose an annual $9.55-per-home fee to pay for its program to dispose of hazardous household waste, but multifamily apartment building owners are asking for a special break.

The agency, also known as StopWaste, says it needs the money to sustain and expand hours at its hazardous waste drop-off sites in Hayward, Fremont, Livermore and Oakland.

Residents deliver to those four sites each year about 1,400 tons of paint, batteries, solvents, fluorescent lamps, ammunition and other hazardous junk, but county residents also dump an estimated 3,400 tons of hazardous waste into the regular trash, down drains or onto streets, endangering the environment.

"Some people don't know. Some people think it's too hard to drive over to the drop-off center," said Gary Wolff, director of the waste authority. "Other people just don't care. They're breaking the law, but no one's enforcing that law."

By making hazardous waste disposal more convenient through the expansion of drop-off days and hours, Wolff said the agency can reduce how much toxic material ends up in landfills. But he also said the Oakland-based agency needs the proposed new revenue stream of about $5 million each year just to keep the program running. That's because its longtime funding source -- a $2.15-per-ton fee on municipal solid waste disposed in landfills -- no longer covers the costs, in part because more people are recycling, Wolff said.

Letters protesting the new fee have begun streaming into the Alameda County Registrar of Voters since a postcard announcing the plan was mailed out to residential property owners. The proposed fee would take effect in July and be collected through each homeowner's property tax roll. The fee would expire in 2024 and could only be reduced, not increased, by the waste authority.

The StopWaste board will vote March 26 on whether to adopt the new fee, and it would take a mass protest of more than 50 percent of all residential parcel owners to preclude the board from approving it. Such a protest is unlikely in a populous county with more than 1.5 million people living in 317,400 single-family homes and 159,700 multifamily building units.

But apartment building owners are hoping to persuade the board to tweak the fee before approving it, arguing that apartment dwellers produce less hazardous waste because they share paint and use less fertilizer and motor oil because they do not have their own gardens and garages. One Hayward-based association representing about 600 building owners is asking for the fee to be dropped to $5 per year for multifamily properties.

"I'm really hopeful they're going to step back for a moment and think about this," said Tim May, director of the Rental Housing Association Serving Southern Alameda County. "If you're a rental property owner, let's say you have 10 units, you're going to be using household hazardous waste in a more efficient way."

Residents can comment about the proposed fee during StopWaste meetings on Wednesday and again on March 26. Both meetings will take place at 3 p.m. at 1537 Webster St., in Oakland. For details, go to www.stopwaste.org/proposedhhwfee.