City Hall

Talking Trash With the City Manager As She Looks At Ways to Generate Additional Revenue

In a few weeks, Dallas City Manager Mary Suhm will present to the city council some revenue-generating brainstorms she hopes could offset some of this year's $60-million-and-maybe-more budget shortfall. Among her proposals, she tells Unfair Park, will be one familiar to anyone paying attention last year: flow control, which involves the city telling solid-waste disposal companies where they can dump their trash. Suhm said last year that directing 'em all to the McCommas Bluff Landfill could make the city anywhere from $14 mil to $17 mil in extra revenue.

The city's looking seriously at insisting solid-waste disposal companies keep their garbage in the city limits rather than schlep it out to one of the dozen other regional landfills. Which, as we noted a couple of weeks back, has the membership of the National Solid Wastes Management Association up in arms. As Tom Brown, chair of the group's Texas Chapter, wrote to the council only last week in a letter forwarded to Unfair Park: "Flow control would require that all commercial waste generated in the city be transported to Southern Dallas even when more economical and efficient options are available for our customers."

The group's latest batch of concerns -- everything from increased traffic to "negative impact on efforts to develop Southern Dallas" -- follows. And you'll note: They say if the city wants to up the franchise fee, fine, just don't tell 'em where to dump. But Suhm, so far, is undeterred in at least considering the option.

"The people that are talking to you make their living this way, and it's a public responsibility to gather up trash," the city manager says. "That's our responsibility. What we're doing is looking at the way it's done. In the middle of June we'll look at several [revenue-generating] options, including flow control. It's done different ways in different places. But waste will be a resource because you can turn it into energy in the future. Do you want resources your community is producing going outside the community?"

Suhm says she's more than willing to listen to the solid-waste industry, but one idea she's vehemently opposed to is privatizing the landfill or trash collection. She says that when the city tried that years ago in Northeast Dallas, "we got rid of all our equipment, and the citizens and council members had a fit." And that was that.

The National Solid Wastes Management Association's letter to council -- "The Problems With Flow Control" -- follows.

The purpose of this document is to share with you information provided to the consultant retained by the City of Dallas to obtain industry comments on flow control. The NSWMA members represented here are responsible for the collection of approximately 70% of the commercial waste stream in Dallas.

Problems with Flow Control

The city's consultant mentioned utilizing three transfer stations would help address concerns about travel times and traffic to Southern Dallas. In fact, this would add an additional cost of between $3.6 and $5.4 million dollars to the cost of handling and trucking and negatively impact traffic. The bottom line is that 900 thousand tons of waste would still be trucked to Southern Dallas using up the city's landfill capacity and requiring millions of dollars in equipment upgrades and additional staffing by the city because commercial waste operations run on a 24/7 basis throughout the year. The city's transfer stations are currently open during the day. The other disadvantages of flow control include:

  • Shortens the life of the city's only landfill
  • Reduces price competition thus raising costs for commercial customers
  • Has city taking over a function already provided by private industry
  • Increases traffic on city's busiest highways I-35(E), I-30, U.S. 75, U.S. 45
  • Has a negative impact on the environment
  • Has a negative impact on efforts to develop Southern Dallas
  • Is difficult or impossible to enforce
  • Higher landfill prices encourage illegal dumping and cheating
  • Possible business loss and income of smaller haulers

Adjusting The Franchise Fee is a Better Way to Address Budget Issues

Our members strongly recommend that the city consider raising the current four percent franchise fee, if additional revenue is needed. The franchise fee is:

  • A proven process that is already in place and working
  • Preserves competition and the free enterprise system
  • Enforceable through audits
  • Requires no additional investment by the city
  • Preserves valuable space in city's only landfill
  • Has no negative impact on the environment
  • No negative impact on Southern Dallas

In the longer term, we urge the city to review all Sanitation Department operations to see if they meet today's best practices. Possible options include outsourcing residential trash pick-up and recycling. Most major cities have sold their landfill operations to avoid future environmental liability and generate hundreds of millions of dollars to fund city operations. The same option is available for the City of Dallas.

NSWMA members are world leaders in recycling, residential and commercial waste collection and landfill operations. NSWMA stand ready work with you to make dramatic, long-lasting improvements in city operations that will help address budget issues now and in the future.