Aug 042009
 
Authors: Seth Anthony

Last week, the Fort Collins City Council made our town just a little bit more “American.”/

In many communities, local governments handle trash collection themselves, or they contract with one provider to handle residential trash pickup for everyone — the “American way,” as one city council member described it.

Here in Fort Collins, we’re apparently un-American in being able to choose from one of three different companies: two local firms, Gallegos Sanitation and Ram Waste Systems, and one multi-billion-dollar international corporation, Waste Management./

Having three trash providers obviously creates some duplication of effort, so some citizens and city council members want to reduce the number of trash trucks that drive down city streets. They argue that this will cut down on road damage, reduce air pollution, make streets safer and save citizens money.

That sounds good until you realize that the way they want to do this is by restricting our choices. The easiest way to cut down the number of trash trucks that drive down your street is to mandate that only one provider picks up trash from your neighborhood.

Making this choice automatically creates winners and losers.

If CSU mandated that only Papa John’s could deliver pizza to campus, Blackjack Pizza would understandably be rather upset at the possibility of lost business. Similarly, if a particular trash hauler worked for individual districts within the city, some businesses would get stuck with better districts than others, hurting their business prospects.

On top of that downside is the loss of choice. If I don’t like the trash provider in my district — because they leave trashcans overturned, aren’t reliable or cost too much — I wouldn’t have the option to choose another one.

Facing both potential positives and negatives, the Fort Collins City Council last week, in a 4-3 vote, decided to conduct a five-year experiment./

They designated part of Fort Collins as a pilot “trash district,” and will solicit bids from trash haulers to service it. Whoever wins will be the designated provider for that district and will be awarded an exclusive contract — really, a government-supervised monopoly — to provide trash service.

Who are the subjects of this experiment? We’re many of them. This experimental trash district covers the northwest corner of town, including everything north of Prospect Road and west of College Avenue.

I can’t help but wonder how much the fact that the student-heavy neighborhoods north and west of campus aren’t likely to offer much pushback playing the role of guinea pigs.

And what’s going to happen to you as a result of this experiment? The city will bill you on your utilities statement whatever rate their designated trash hauler chooses. You can’t opt out. You can’t say no. Even if you only produce one bag of trash per month and prefer to take it down to the landfill yourself, you’re still going to pay the full fee on your utility bill.

You could still choose your favorite trash pickup service, if they remain in business, but you’d pay their fee on top of whatever the city bills you. After implementation of the housing ordinance 3-unrelated, which prevents more than three unrelated people living in one house, it shouldn’t be surprising that city has found another way to raise the cost of living for students.

Additionally, the competition that’s likely to shape up between the three trash providers starts out as an unfair fight, pitting two local businesses against the large corporation that currently has a contract to pick up trash from city facilities. Even if one of the local businesses gets this contract, the other will take a hit from the loss of business. A loss to a large corporate firm would (aside from their local employees) hardly hurt them at all./

So instead of fostering choice and encouraging competition, Fort Collins is moving toward homogenizing services, punishing local businesses and limiting our options. I guess these days, that’s the American way.

Seth Anthony is a chemistry graduate student. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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