City Hall

Before the Council Talks Trash This Morning ...

No doubt most of you aren't all that concerned where your garbage gets dumped, so long as it's picked up and hauled off on time. That said, the subject's slowly but surely becoming a hot topic at City Hall, as City Manager Mary Suhm and Sanitation Services Director Mary Nix make their solid-waste case to keep all of Dallas' trash in the city limits beginning with this morning's council briefing.

For one, they insist the methane-capturing technology at the McCommas Bluff Landfill is only going to increase opportunities to convert garbage into gold. And, they say, forcing trucks to dump at Dallas-owned facilities, rather than allowing them to go to one of the dozen other landfills outside the city limits, will bring in an additional $13 to $15 million annually. The solid waste industry disagrees. Strongly. But those folks aren't alone.

Last night, Paul Quinn College President Michael Sorrell told KXAS-Channel 5 that having all those extra trucks heading to the landfill won't do the school any favors: "No one wants to live close to a great big garbage dump. If they did, all the folks that are talking about doing it would put it in their neighborhood." In a press release that follows, Gerry Henigsman, executive vice president of the Greater Dallas Apartment Association, says "the cost of trash collection is a major budget item for our members who do not want to pass higher costs on to our residents in terms of higher rents."

And council member Vonciel Jones Hill writes in an email to city staff that was forwarded to Unfair Park that she is "absolutely and adamantly opposed" to directing all trash to McCommas because "it is detrimental to the economic enhancement of our southern sector." I tried to talk to Hill about this yesterday, but was told she's unavailable till tomorrow due to her son's graduation today. Anyway. The industry's call for a task-force review of City Hall's trash pick-up practices follows, as does the Channel 5 piece.

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Industry Leaders Call for Task Force to Review City of Dallas Sanitation Operations

Study Would Include Flow Control, Outsourcing Residential Collections and the City Landfill

Dallas, Texas (June 1, 2011) - Industry leaders from the solid waste disposal industry say Dallas officials have underestimated the costs of implementing flow control. They have called for a task force to review the city's Sanitation Department to see if privatization of all or part of its functions could save the city as much as $15 million a year.

The flow control ordinance being proposed by the city staff would require that all commercial waste be hauled to far Southern Dallas even when less expensive and more convenient disposal sites are available. The region is currently served by 12 state licensed and regulated landfills geographically dispersed throughout the region. Many are less expensive to use than the city's single landfill at McCommas Bluff. The extra cost for needless miles driven and higher disposal fees would significantly raise the cost of disposal.

"The city staff presentation supporting flow control is based on wishful thinking, rather than hard facts," said Tom Brown, Texas President of the National Solid Waste Management Association (NSWMA). "The problem for local businesses, schools, hospitals and other generators of commercial waste is that the proposal takes millions of dollars out of their pockets immediately."

"In addition, the city staff has ignored industry experts who say the city could save an additional $15 million a year by continuing the nationwide trend of privatizing solid waste collection services," said Tom Brown, Texas president of the National Solid Waste Management Association (NSWMA), whose members serve thousands of commercial customers in Dallas. "The presentation being made to the city council today does not provide enough detail or options to help the council make an informed decision that will be good for the future of the entire community."

Industry Experts Dispute City Figures

City staff claim flow control would capture 850,000 tons of additional waste that would generate $18,000,000 in revenue. However, waste industry experts say it will take an estimated additional $6,000,000 in capital expenditures to handle the additional volume created by flow control in the first year and then approximately another $2,000,000 in operating expenses every year thereafter. The additional material would also require new cell construction costing about $3,000,000 per year. After all of the expenses all that remains is $7,000,000 in profit for the general fund in the first year, not the $14 to $17 million that staff represents.

NSWMA Offers A Better Solution

The NSWMA is recommending the city adjust the current franchise fee. Adjusting the franchise fee from 4 percent to 12 percent would generate an additional $8,000,000 per year with no additional capital investment from the city. In addition, unlike flow control, the franchise fee is easily enforced. "Council members requested that we help them identify ways to generate additional income for the city," said Brown. "Our industry has done that in a responsible manner that does not have unintended negative consequences for the entire community."

"The most disturbing part of the city presentation is that it ignores serious problems flow control will create on day one of its implementation," said Brown. "It does not address the environmental impact of hauling 850,000 tons of waste on some of the city's most congested highways or the impact of higher transportation costs and landfill fees on businesses, schools, churches, hospitals and others in the community. In addition, the city staff has not addressed the concerns expressed by Southern Dallas council members about the impact of flow control on their communities."

"In today's difficult economic times it is vital that we look at a department this large from every angle including whether its work would be more efficiently performed by the private sector," said Brown. "While the city should be rightfully proud of some of its accomplishments in this area there is no independent review to show citizens are getting the best value for their hard earned tax dollars."

"Suggesting that privatization doesn't work because of events that took place several decades ago is ridiculous," said Brown. "Dallas should be looking toward best practices which for most communities includes privatizing sanitation services."

"We are very concerned about the potential cost increase flow control would create for our members," said Gerry Henigsman, Executive Vice President of the Greater Dallas Apartment Association. "The cost of trash collection is a major budget item for our members who do not want to pass higher costs on to our residents in terms of higher rents."

The Reason Foundation estimates that competitive delivery of solid waste services typically generates cost savings on the order of 20 to 40 percent because private companies have the economies of scale to spread investment, environmental protection and procurement costs. Most major U.S. cities have turned over ownership of their landfills to private enterprise, including Houston, San Antonio, Austin, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. Fort Worth and Arlington have private management of their facilities.

According to a 1995 study done by the Reason foundation, 120 local governments in 34 states found that between 1987 and 1995, the percentage of cities contracting out for solid waste collection increased by 20 percent and that 100 percent of participants saw cost savings from this approach.