Here's the decision Toledo City Council faces when it comes to garbage collection:
1) Automate the vehicles and reduce the number of workers it takes to run a route from three to one. This would require the issuance of notes to purchase the new trucks and other equipment, but it would save, according to the administration, $3 million.
2) Issue a Request For Proposal and then award a contract (or several) to private companies to provide the service. Savings are not known.
3) Eliminate the government program, refund the taxes used to pay for the service (roughly $12 million/year) and let citizens contract for their own services on the open market.
I just cannot conceive of the third option going anywhere - primarily because the city will never give up on the jobs (though most if not all refuse workers would find work in the private sector as local companies expanded to meet the new demand) or the revenue. And while this would be my first choice, I don't believe the city will refund the monies being collected - so Toledoans would still be paying a significant amount of money, but would no longer be getting a service while having a new bill for the private contractor.
Which means the real choice is between options #1 and #2. There are going to be pros and cons for each of these, but both cannot be pursued at the same time - at least, not if saving money is the priority.
Last night, council approved an ordinance to issue $9.6 million in notes for new carts and cans. The administration said this needed to be done regardless of the option for going forward. (corrected 2-5-09)
Additionally, new vehicles are necessary (whether more of the ones we've been using or the automation type) because the city has ignored regular replacement of the trucks, resulting in what has become an 'emergency' need - at the worst possible time in the city's financial condition.
However, if subcontracting can give Toledoans the service for less, why would we purchase new garbage trucks? Why wouldn't we just issue the bids and not worry about going into debt with capital items of a limited life?
The questions I didn't hear during last night's council meeting were about the comparison of costs between automation and sub-contracting. As far as I've been able to tell, no fiscal analysis has been done on the two options - and if it was, it has not been shared with the public. Council members have the ability to require such analysis/comparison/report prior to voting - but they didn't.
This is just another example of council not providing oversight of the budget for which they have authority.
True, the administration doesn't actually have to issue the notes immediately, so there is still time to gather the necessary data. But before the city goes any further, I certainly hope the fiscal comparison of the two options is made available to the public, since it seems the public is more willing than most of council to ask the tough questions.