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Wednesday, April 8, 2009 | I find it interesting that, in the renewed discussion of whether San Diegans might vote to repeal the so-called “People’s Ordinance” of 1919, most people work from the assumption that it has to be a two-step process or result: First, voters repeal the ordinance, which now prohibits the city from collecting a trash pick-up fee from single-family residences, and then secondly, city officials proceed to raise our taxes to pay for trash collection.
But my question is, why does there have to be the second part, that is, the city taxing us for trash service? Of course, going back a step, my real question is, why does the City of San Diego have to be in the trash collection business at all? There are thousands of municipal, township and county governments across the country that have gotten out of refuse collection and contracted the job to private companies. The private trash companies bid for the right to collect refuse, and the companies’ performance is monitored by the government entity to ensure quality of service and recycling requirements.
This should not be a shocking idea to anyone. In San Diego, commercial and industrial companies and apartment and condominium complexes already pay for private trash pick-up. In fact, not only do these companies and multifamily residences pay for their own refuse collection, but they also pay property taxes, effectively subsidizing the cost of trash pick-up, in part, for single family residences. Is that fair?
Next, I believe that government should only provide those functions or services that the private sector or citizens cannot provide for themselves, such as national defense, police protection, public health, and monetary supply and policy, to name a few. There is nothing so unique or complicated about trash collection that only government workers can provide the service. Getting rid of city collection of trash would free up nearly $40 million per year, which could be used to fund infrastructure, street, sidewalk and other repairs and improvements, fix the deferred building maintenance backlog, keep libraries and community centers open, and so much more.
Finally, no, I am not naïve. Those (like me) who advocate for a repeal of the People’s Ordinance should still have to convince voters that serious, structural budget changes will be made by city officials, so the $40 million wouldn’t just go down another rat hole. I wonder, though, if our current group of elected city officials is up to the total package of challenges I present here?