By Les Kimber
Attempts by Mayor Ashley Swearengin to privatize the city’s solid waste department as a quick fix to the city’s budget problems are shortsighted and irresponsible. The city’s solid waste department is one of the most efficient and successful departments in the entire City of Fresno.
The fact that the department is self-supporting and has a $16.8 million reserve is evidence of how well the residents of Fresno have been served by those who work every day to provide this essential service. Not only are all costs related to providing trash service completely covered by the rates paid by customers, but the department also currently transfers $2.4 million annually to other city departments for goods and services. If the mayor is successful in privatizing the department, the general fund will lose approximately $2.4 million that will need to be covered by a portion of the franchise fees.
A Gift of Public Property
The contract that the mayor has approved with Mid Valley Disposal is the largest gift of public property in the history of Fresno. The City of Fresno spent more than $20 million on trucks and equipment that will now be sold to Mid Valley Disposal for $6 million. The city will be selling 320,957 home garbage container carts for $10 each. This represents a gift of approximately $28 million because the estimated replacement cost is $100 per cart. In addition, the city is giving Mid Valley Disposal approximately 107,000 new customers, a 625% increase from the 17,157 customers it currently serves.
In essence, the mayor is creating a private-sector monopoly with no control by Fresno residents. The city presently collects approximately $30 million in fees annually from city residents that will be transferred to Mid Valley if the agreement is allowed to stand.
Future Collection Problems
The residents of Fresno are presently being billed by the City of Fresno for trash collection, water and sewer all in one bill. If a resident does not pay her monthly bill, the city can cut off her water thus providing a foolproof collection tool. If residents are unable to pay their trash bill in the future, Mid Valley Disposal will collect the carts and stop service. This could create the potential for increased illegal dumping with a much bigger problem in areas of Fresno already dealing with blight and trash.
The mayor has for months portrayed privatization as an issue between the City of Fresno and unions, obviously hoping that the anti-union sentiment in Fresno will be enough for residents to approve this ill-conceived idea.
It is true that privatization is opposed by unions, as it should be, but this issue is not just about unions; it is about stopping the city from dismantling city departments that provide essential services to Fresno residents to create private-sector monopolies as a quick-fix for Fresno’s budget.
Les Kimber is a former member of the Fresno City Council and the founder of the California Advocate.