Talkin’ trashWritten by Jim Harpen | | firstname.lastname@example.org
There are a lot of ideas being floated to plug the city of Toledo’s $10 million budget gap for 2009. Most of them involve some suffering among the 300,000 inhabitants of the Glass City, cutting police and fire, increasing the trash collection fee, and increasing the payroll tax on Toledoans working outside the city.
There’s one proposal that could provide millions in savings, and we Toledoans would barely even take notice. But the Finkbeiner Administration and city council are dragging their heels, while savings are slipping through our fingers. And the only apparent reason is to placate Teamsters Local 20.
I’m talking trash, and something stinks. In August, the city asked for bids from private companies to take over trash collection. Allied Waste Services was the only company to make an offer — an offer that could save taxpayers around $20 million over the next five years.
Here are the numbers Allied Waste would charge the city $8.4 million a year. The city says they can do it with city employees for $9.9 million. That’s a savings of $1.6 million a year right there. Allied Waste will buy its own automated trucks. The city would have to shell out $12.2 million to buy the automated trucks, and we taxpayers would have to pay that back in five years — with interest. Allied Waste will do the maintenance on their trucks. The city would have to pay its own mechanics to do that.
The Allied Waste proposal would also eliminate the Rubik’s Cube trash collection schedule, where each city holiday moves your trash collection forward by one day. Allied will make up for holidays by working Saturdays.
This opportunity to save taxpayer money without having to cut police and firefighters or raise taxes seems like a no-brainer. “Politically, I guess they’d rather lay off fire and police than lay off a couple of garbage men,” said Paul Rasmussen, general manager of Allied Waste Services of Toledo.
Why doesn’t the city seize the moment and the savings to us taxpayers? Rasmussen said a Finkbeiner representative told him, “We just don’t have the votes” on council to get this done.
Why don’t they have the votes on city council?
The union should be OK with this because Allied Waste’s employees are also represented by Teamsters Local 20. The big difference is that Allied Waste employees get paid for eight hours when they work eight hours. It’s a poorly kept secret that City of Toledo trash collectors get paid for eight hours but only work four or five hours a day. They get their route done early, and they’re outta there. That cozy arrangement between the city and Local 20 has been in place since dinosaurs roamed the earth.
Both the Finkbeiner Administration and city council are bending over backward to help the Teamsters employees hold onto those jobs. The union has a political and competitive advantage in their negotiations with the city; with Allied’s exact dollar figures in hand, the Teamsters know exactly what their “meet or beat” number is. It’s like facing that awkward “salary expectation” question during a job interview, but knowing what the other applicants asked for so you can underbid them. “I feel I’ve been played as a patsy for a long time,” Rasmussen told me. “There are some real savings the administration is just ignoring.”
The objections to Allied’s proposal some council members have given me are just plain lame. One said that city trash collectors will not pick up prohibited, environmentally damaging items like discarded paint, but a private contractor might. Lemme see here: Whether it’s a city employee or a private contractor, the automated trucks require one-man crews. The driver never leaves the cab of the truck. For all the driver knows, he could be taking on board the long-sought remains of Jimmy Hoffa.
Rasmussen said the city has missed the chance to save $1.5 million in 2009. “If they made a commitment by mid-February, I could’ve had my trucks here by July first.”
This issue should be settled by the end of March. If council’s choice doesn’t pass the sniff test, plug your nose and scream at the top of your lungs, “this political garbage stinks.”
E-mail columnist Jim Harpen at email@example.com.