Several municipal governments in Solano County recently reviewed past-due garbage bills from their respective garbage contractors and moved to place liens against chronic nonpayers. Of all the issues afflicting our communities, one wonders why city resources are involved in third-party bill collection.
Services, like garbage collection, are exchanged between private individuals and/or businesses. Should one party default on their part of the agreement, it is incumbent on the other party to compel the defaulter to deliver; often by a civil judgment. This is the standard for all types of common services: Auto repair, construction services and health care, just to name a few.
Yet, for some reason, when it comes to garbage collection, we the people have surrendered (or perhaps had it ripped from our hands?) our freedom of choice and association to a municipal government. Not only are we allowed only one company to serve us, but we are required to buy their services. If you get unsatisfactory service, what recourse do you the end customer have? Can you go to a competitor or opt out entirely?
Unfortunately, the answer is resounding no.
Cities tried that with cable monopolies and the result was reduced selection and quality while experiencing rising prices. Fortunately, alternate (and unregulated at the municipal level) goods came along, in the form of Internet streaming services or satellite-dish services. Unless someone is developing a mobile debris incinerating service, consumers don’t have many alternatives for their garbage collection needs. The classic “put your trash in a box and drive it to the landfill” method will have to suffice.
The question still begs to be asked: Why grant a garbage collection monopoly? If some other individual or business wants to come to my house, haul my garbage, recyclables and compostable materials every week for a price I am willing to pay, why shouldn’t they be allowed to offer their services?
Furthermore, why force everyone to subscribe to garbage collection? If one is environmentally conscious enough where they have developed a lifestyle that doesn’t create garbage, they take all their recyclables to the recycling center and compost their green waste into a garden, why should they be compelled to subscribe to service they don’t use, simply because they live in a city limit?
Looking at these exclusive deals, oftentimes there are hidden tax increases. The city typically gets a “franchise fee,” which can range from 5 to 10 percent. What does the city do to earn its cut? Additionally, there may be additional charges, like a road impact fee. It is unlikely that the garbage collection proprietor will absorb the fee, so it will be passed on to us, the customers.
For those who believe that mandatory municipal monopolies are wonderful for a community, why don’t we apply the concept to other areas of our local economy? Let us consider package deliveries: Would signing an exclusive 10-year contract with FedEx instead of UPS to deliver packages in our city limits ensure consumer choice and value?
What about cellphone service? With all these different providers setting up towers, our cities will become forests of awkward metal towers. If we just let the city choose one cellphone provider, we could remove the extra towers and clean up our cities. How about all those grocery stores? Let us grant Walmart an exclusive 10-year deal in our town and exclude Safeway, Raley’s and other vendors. We don’t need all those extra delivery trucks driving around on our roads, adding to traffic and wearing them down.
As consumers, we must be aware of the factors that affect the value and quality of the services we desire. As citizens, we must always be vigilant as to the activities of government and ensure they are working in our best interest. Oftentimes, the two are directly intertwined.
Brian Thiemer is chairman of the Solano County Libertarian Party. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.