Privatizing garbage pickup can help to cut costs and reduce length of labour disputes
Two words rarely uttered by municipal politicians in Canada in public are “contracting out.”
The term describes the situation when work normally performed by unionized public servants is handed over to the private or not-for-profit sector to conduct. As a politician friend of mine once told me, if a service can be found in the Yellow Pages, you should ask yourself why it's being provided by the public sector.
In the case of our city governments, the list of services eligible for contracting out is immense. They include things like lawn cutting, road paving, garbage collection and snow clearing, just to name a few.
I’m no flaming privatization nut. I see that there are practical reasons why we want to keep public work done by public employees. But even I can see the advantages to a city’s bottom line by contracting out select services.
In Metro Vancouver, some cities are already jumping on the bandwagon by privatizing commercial and residential garbage pickup services. It’s probably the most highly visible and contentious item civic politicians can tackle in their quest to cut costs.out.
I came across an interesting YouTube video recently regarding the city of Sandy Springs, Georgia. Faced with ballooning tax hikes and poor services in a small but affluent unincorporated county, they decided to form their own local government.
Unlike many other American cities teetering on the verge of bankruptcy due to high public sector payrolls and pensions, this tiny community went down a radically different path. They essentially chose to contract out their government to the private sector.
Since 2008, their unique public-private partnership (P3) has allowed them to deliver superior services to their citizens at half the previous cost. They estimate that using a traditional model of governance, it would have cost local taxpayers $50 million to provide city services on an annual basis.
According to Sandy Springs officials, they only spent $25 million per year for equal or better services than before the P3 arrangement.
In the case of Vancouver, there has been no meaningful debate in council chambers to discuss how contracting out might improve services or reduce costs. Meanwhile, countless hours have been wasted talking about backyard chickens and multi-million-dollar dedicated bike lanes.
Despite the fact Vancouver is now entering a new round of labour negotiations, the discussion about privatizing services is simply not happening. Meanwhile in neighbouring communities like Surrey and Coquitlam, they’ve already begun to look to the private sector as a partner when it comes to trimming the cost of local government.
As cities grapple with lower revenues and the burden of rising costs, I believe it’s only a matter of time before a majority of voters demand their local politicians start getting creative.
It’s time for a serious dialogue about the pros and cons of contracting
UPDATE: Former BC Federation of Labour bigwig and now Vancouver city councillor Geoff Meggs has been put in charge of the labour negotiations with their unionized employees. It is anticipated they will hammer out a new labour agreement prior to the next civic election.
- Post by Daniel. Follow @CityCaucus on Twitter. Check out Daniel's civic affairs column every Thursday in 24 Hours Vancouver.