It’s Time To Privatize City Services
Katy Grimes: The City of Sacramento has drastically cut residents’ services, but the taxes paid to the city have not been reduced.
Sacramento is not unique. However, instead of looking for alternative private sector solutions, the Public Relations campaign by the city has ramped up.
Today on the front page of the Sacramento Bee was a puff piece for the city, touting how hard the city Solid Waste Services employees work during the fall and winter seasons. ‘The city has adequate crews and equipment to provide weekly loose green waste collections 10 months of the year. ‘But we’re not able to provide it weekly in leaf season,’ said Steve Harriman, general manager of integrated waste operations,” the Bee Reported.
Known as the city of trees, Sacramento becomes a giant leaf pile during the fall and early winter. City waste service employees most certainly have a big job. “During leaf season, the City collects nearly 27,000 tons of yard waste,” the city website reads. “Due to the large amount of leaves needing collection, the City may fall behind on its scheduled collection day,” they’ve now added.
Sacramento never used to fall behind picking up the leaves – not until they signed the contract for additional garbage cans.
Tradition of Trash
Downtown Sacramento has a long tradition of allowing leaf piles for yard waste, and city residents have always paid extra for the service. The city used to pick up the yard waste piles every week. But last year, as city services dwindled and budget cuts continued, yard waste piles sat in front of residents’ homes… and sat… and rotted, week after week. Some residents bagged up the leaf and grass piles, but most just sat and smelled.
The city notified residents during the last year that instead of continuing to pick up the yard waste piles, Solid Waste Services would be delivering another huge garbage can (this makes three), designated for yard waste only. When residents screamed about this, the city sent out notices cleverly worded to appear that residents had a choice to opt for the cans, or the piles.
But Sacramento now has two separate crews doing the same job. Those who still have the street pickup have had rates increased. And the service has been dramatically cut back. When a neighbor called the city to complain about the yard waste piles not having been picked up for more than eight weeks, he was told that there would be only two pickups in the fall and winter.
I took a picture of a stinky eight-week old leaf pile, and wrote about it last May, and the cuts to services.
But most residents say that they either did not see the notices, or misunderstood the wording. And before we knew it, the huge cans were delivered. One Bee reader explained what many residents experienced: “What’s up with the line ‘Residents who opt for containerized green waste service.’ I didn’t opt for it, it was forced on me. I had no say in it. I did opt to not have the green can though but I still pay for it. They’re behind because they let it go too long. The city incurred more expense when they brought in the green cans and new trucks to use to empty them with. They should’ve kept the claw so it could come by once a week like it used to.”
A third garbage can was delivered to my house, along with most of the 6,000 other homes in my neighborhood. Imagine the cost of the new cans to the city – Home Depot charges $139 for the cans – that’s $834,000 just for the cans in my neighborhood. Even if the cans were purchased at half of the retail cost, that’s still $417,000. That is a large purchase for a city that is cutting jobs and can’t pick up yard waste piles weekly.
Residents never imagined that we would have three 96-gallon garbage cans, lined up outside of our homes. How absurd.
Piles Are Growing
“‘The leaf piles have grown so enormous that I fear dogs and cats and maybe small children could get lost in them,’ said Eric Brazil, noting that the piles are the worst he’s seen in his 10 years in the neighborhood,” The Bee reported.
Brazil is right. Even the 96-gallon container is not enough to store the weekly leaves, grass cuttings. The City of Trees produces a great deal of yard waste – much more than most areas, which is why the city has always managed this service.
But cuts to crucial services are always the first option chosen by bureaucrats. Hoping the taxpayers will demand to keep certain services, and eventually agree to pay more in taxes.
Other City Cuts
The City of Sacramento has cut the number of city park employees by nearly 50 percent, choosing to allow the city’s beautiful parks to rot. Local neighborhood groups have stepped in to assist with the maintenance and park cleanup, but this cannot go on indefinitely – particularly since Sacramento has not been an agreeable partner in the deal, withholding tools from volunteers, and leaving the tree and shrub cuttings for months along city streets around the park to decay.
The game is just about jobs – public employee jobs. As long as the tail is wagging the dog, and cities like Sacramento are run by labor unions, the ongoing cuts to services, and threats of more cuts will prevail – and the reason that garbage, yard waste, and park services should all be privatized.
Privatizing city services would improve service, cut costs, force more creative solutions when problems arise, and improve how and when labor is needed.
DEC. 21, 2011
May 19, 2013