Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Talking Trash (a microcosm of progressive government)

Here we go again. The Athens-Clarke County Commission is poised to extend its regulatory tentacles into yet another area of my life where it is neither needed nor wanted (see articles in Flagpole and the Banner-Herald).

For those unfamiliar with our fair burg, we have a distinct division into “haves” and “have nots” here in the Classic City. Since city-county consolidation, residents of the former City of Athens live in what is called the “urban services” district, while those of us who reside in the formerly unincorporated area of the county live in what is euphemistically called the “general services” district. And ne’er the twain shall meet as, by and large, residents of the outlying areas continue to lack the basic services expected of a local government (water, sewer, trash pickup, etc.), about which I have commented ad nauseam.

Folks in the urban services district receive trash pickup from the Unified Government (for an additional fee, to be fair), folks in the general services district do not. The latter have to dispose of their trash themselves or pay a private hauler to do so. The Commission is considering a plan under which the general services district would be divided into several zones, with each zone being served by a single private hauler as determined by the Unified Government through the issuance of an “exclusive franchise” based on a bidding process.

Naturally, this proposal has prompted much discussion in the opinion pages of the Banner-Herald and on the Winterville Yahoo newsgroup (for those who do not know, Winterville is a separate municipality lying wholly within Athens-Clarke County – and yes that does entail some confusion from time to time). Even District 5 Commissioner David Lynn chimed in. Lynn is a bright guy with whom I agree on some issues (though our political philosophies differ greatly, we have found common ground on some civil libertarian issues), but I think he completely missed the boat on this one.

Ostensibly, the idea behind the franchise plan is to encourage citizens to recycle, thereby prolonging the life of the local landfill. These are laudable enough goals in and of themselves. To my mind, though, there are several areas of concern with this proposal:

1. “Exclusive franchise” rights would be awarded through a biding process. To whom would those bids be paid? The Unified Government, of course. Why should the Unified Government make a dime off of a service it does not provide?

2. Rates would be “standardized” (i.e. set) and billing administered by the Unified Government, meaning more bureaucracy and more employees (also, see No. 1 above).

3. What happens to those private haulers who do not get a franchise? They go out of business, that’s what. Remember how the Unified Government constantly tells us that it is “business friendly,” while at the same time continuously increasing the regulatory burden it places on business?

If the Unified Government wants to extend trash pickup service to the formerly unincorporated areas of the county, and by that I mean providing the general services district with the same service currently provided to the urban services district, that’s one thing. If, however, it merely wants to control that service in the peripheral areas of the county without actually providing it – thereby limiting my choices as a consumer and driving up the cost to me – I am opposed.

I'm getting real tired of my rights, my freedoms, and my bank account taking hits for what our betters tell me is the greater good, as those schemes invariably involve more government regulation and greater expense. And the problems that prompt these "solutions" never seem to get any better, do the

Addendum: At a Commission meeting some years ago I commented on the disparity between the services provided to the in-towners compared to those received by we rural folks, specifically citing trash pickup (or rather the lack thereof) among others. My comments prompted someone inside the rail, a staffer as I recall, to note that citizens in the general services district really got a better deal on trash pickup than those in the urban services district. Given my nature, the next opportunity I had to say something I immediately proposed that, if that was really the case, the Unified Government get out of the trash pickup business altogether and let the in-towners fend for themselves just like we out-of-towners. Needless to say, all I got from inside the rail, from elected officials and staffers alike, was blank stares.

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Anonymous said...

Give me a break... your freedoms are taking a beating???

This coming from a guy who supports a political party that has done nothing but take away our freedoms over the last eight years.

As for the trash...it is all about our landfill, it is not about anything else. The private haulers are very uncooperative with the ACC gov't, who own and run the landfill. They do not encourage recycling and have frequently been seen tossing recycled materials into the trash. The idea that as a community we value recycling, and fewer landfills may come as a shock to you, but if the private haulers did their part this would not be an issue. The only reason Solid Waste is pushing this is because the haulers do not cooperate.

Anonymous said...

Anon is right. Furthermore, I do not believe you are correct that the haulers will pay a fee to ACC. They will bid against each other and the lowest bid will set the rate for the others. ACC's own Solid Waste will also have to bid. ACC will handle the billing.

Of course, extending the landfill's life saves you tax dollars. I would have thought you were in favor of that, based on your other posts. But perhaps you're only in favor of scoring political points :-)

Anonymous said...

Addendum: "I do not believe you are correct that the haulers will pay a fee to ACC" -- other than a small fee to cover the cost of billing (ie ACC won't be "making money" off this).

james said...

I can make a good argument that the Unified Government is chipping away at my rights and freedoms (or at least making the attempt). A few examples come immediately to mind: it regulates who sleeps in my house (the definition of family ordinance and the associated rental registration fiascos I and II); it dictates what I do with my property, to the point of making it all but un-developable (reduced allowable density in the AR zones by 90% and the one size fits all stream buffer); it prohibits consenting adults from engaging in a perfectly legal activity on private property (the smoking ban); and now, it is poised to dictate with whom I do business and under what circumstances regarding trash pickup. Always in the name of the greater good, mind you.

Of course, these are points about which reasonable people can disagree. The problem from my perspective is that, in any given situation, the Commission can be counted on to come down on the side of big-government collectivism (and how). I understand that such an approach is popular in this, the bluest of blue counties, but I still think that it is wrong.

I also understand about the diminishing capacity of the landfill. Even so, the expressed goal is to increase the number of households that recycle from around one-third to about one-half (hopefully). That seems a marginal return for the regulatory scheme that is proposed, dictating as it will the private hauler with whom I do business, the rates I pay, and perhaps even with whom the selected private haulers may subcontract. For what it is worth, I am already a voluntary recycler – and am quite happy with my current private hauler.

I reread both articles to which the original post linked and neither makes the bidding aspect entirely clear, other than that the low bid would be used to set rates countywide. Even if the bids do not go to the Unified Government, it will receive a fee for “billing, administration, and recycling education” that it currently does not get. In other words, those of us in the general services district will have the privilege of paying City Hall to dictate trash pickup services for us.

My aggravations with the Unified Government are both philosophical and practical. The former is noted above. The latter is that when it comes to providing my family with basic services, as promised at the time of city-county consolidation and written into the Charter (and yes, it’s there), we might as well live in Oglethorpe County. When it come to imposing regulations on us and getting money from us, however, we are just as much part of Athens-Clarke County as folks in Five Points or Cobbham.

Anonymous said...

"and yes, it’s there"


My recollection is not that these things were promised but that they would be explored. But I am happy to be corrected if you can cut and paste and/ or show where in the Charter it says that they will actually be provided.

james said...

Glad you asked. See a post from last September entitled "On The Charter." The URL is http://theotherathens.blogspot.com/2007/09/on-charter.html. Alternatively, you could use the Archive list or use "charter" as a search term.

Anonymous said...

In Re Charter. It says in Sec 9-103, as you posted, that:

1) the County shall continue to provide services to the old county and the city to the old city (done);

2) a uniform rate for water and sewer would be adopted (done)

3) a service delivery plan would be adopted (done)

I am not sure what your beef is. They did what they said they would do. What the Charter most specifically does not state -- and which I think you misread -- is that sewer would be provided throughout the county (which, from reading your comments in various places, I take to be your major beef). What it does say is that a plan would be adopted but it does not say it would necessarily be implemented. If they had meant to tie the hands of the govt and had meant to say that the govt would indeed extend sewer throughout the county then, presumably, they would have stated that, and not merely stated that the plan would be adopted. But that's not what it says. I would have thought a literalist with regard to interpretation of the US Constitution (which I take you to be) would also interpret the words of the Charter literally too, but perhaps not :-)

james said...

We will remain at loggerheads on this one. However, I am grateful for your comments as they have prompted a line of reasoning I intend to pursue in an upcoming post. I do not mind differing opinions in the least (nor a bit of good-natured Devils' advocacy, for that matter).

Anonymous said...

Glad to help :-) The Devil sometimes helps in all sorts of manners (I probably shouldn't say that too loudly in these here parts, but you know what I mean, hopefully ;-) ).

Now, of course, one could argue that this was "bait and switch" or designed to fool people. Perhaps. Perhaps not. But I guess in this, as in all things in life, caveat emptor.