Friday, November 26, 2010

Wichita Residents say "Get your government hands off my ... trash service?

Wichita Business Journal - by Emily Behlmann

Could the city of Wichita’s effort to develop an agreement with trash haulers be the local equivalent to health care reform? That’s the analogy Wichita City Council member Paul Gray used Tuesday during a workshop on the issue.

Gray said that November’s election results give evidence of how many Americans feel about health reform: “People didn’t want government taking over their choice and getting involved in something they didn’t want government involved in.” He doesn’t think a lot of Wichitans want government involved in their trash service, either.

The plan Gray was questioning would establish a cooperative of the city’s 22 licensed residential trash haulers. Every hauler would be assigned a zone with a number of customers equal to its current load.

All residences would pay $20 a month for the service. It would include weekly trash pickup, bi-weekly single-steam recycling pickup and an annual bulk waste pickup. Agreements haulers have made with homeowners’ associations for discounted services would be honored for the life of the contracts.

The city would keep 5 percent of the revenue as an administrative fee for handling billing and starts and stops to service. City Manager Robert Layton said the $20 monthly fee is less than or equal to what 80 percent of residents currently pay.

He said benefits to the city include a reduction in the amount of truck traffic that wears down the roads — currently, residents choose their hauler, so you might have five trash trucks going up and down your street — and a decrease in air pollution. It also could encourage more people to recycle, supporters said, and if the city were blanketed with trash service, it could cut down on illegal dumping.

And haulers like the idea — at least better than an alternative that has been floated before. Jim Spencer, division vice president of Waste Connections of Kansas, says local haulers long have worried that the city will franchise trash service in a traditional format, in which they choose a single service for the entire city.

“That’s great if you’re the winning bidder,” he said. “But 21 companies would be losers and would be put out of business. ... The mere fact that the city council or city staff has had discussions about franchising puts the smaller hauler in the position of being unable to borrow from the bank, because they can’t guarantee they can repay those loans.”

Gray said he understands the concern, adding that “the nature of city hall to put them in fear.” But, he said, there’s no real problem with the service that is being solved through this proposal.  However, Spencer said that through the cooperative plan — a compromise, as he called it — Waste Connections and Waste Management would lower the disposal fees at their transfer stations, which would make it less expensive for haulers to do business.

“This would help control market costs,” David Lies, president of Lies Trash Service, said at the workshop. But it still removes some choice from the equation, as Gray and others emphasized. He says, for instance, that he chooses not to have recycling service at his home. Why should he have to pay for it?

And council members Sue Schlapp and Jim Skelton both said they’ve had bad experiences with trash haulers. The current free-market system has allowed them to switch to services they like better. Under the new system, they would have to complain to the co-op, which could enforce service standards and, if worse came to worst, withhold payments to haulers.

“I liked that I had the ability to change that,” Schlapp says. “I have a real concern with government coming in and saying, ‘We’re here to fix it for you.’ ... I think we’re giving away a huge amount of control over something in our lives.”

The plan also would prevent a hauler from growing its customer base through superior services or lower prices, though Spencer said companies still could grow through acquisition.

Despite the concerns, and plenty of questions, the proposal did receive some council support. Both Janet Miller and Lavonta Williams were positive about the idea, with Miller citing environmental benefits such as a reduction in the distance trucks would have to drive.

The council took no action on the concept, and the next step is likely to be discussions among District Advisory Boards to get a better pulse of how citizens feel on the issue.

A proposal being pounded out at City Hall calls for all the trash haulers to form a Co-op and then enter into a contract with the city. Residents would get curb-side recycling, less trash trucks rolling down their street and possibly a reduced rate. But they will also lose the right to choose who hauls their trash and that has some saying the plan stinks.

Under the proposal, all 22 licensed haulers would form a Co-op and then enter into a 20-year contract with the City of Wichita. Residential customers would be charged a flat $20 fee and that fee would include curbside recycling.
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1 comment:

  1. The idea of having fee for the residential costumers is a good idea that will benefit all the people in the community.