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Our view: Auburn may do better with private garbage service

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Auburn Landfill

The Auburn landfill.

As Auburn closes its landfill, the city should also explore getting out of the garbage collection business altogether.

The city council is currently tweaking a budget proposal with a 3% percent increase in spending and 3.3% property tax hike. The city also is looking at the possibility of increasing garbage collection and transfer station fees to help address gaps in the funds for those operations, and a water rate increase could also be in the works. It could all add up to an impactful increase in out-of-pocket expenses for taxpayers to the city.

The Department of Public Works is requesting $1.7 million for refuse collection in the next city budget, an increase of 2.3%, and suggested that the city should "reevaluate" its garbage collection fees.

An option we encourage the council to explore is outsourcing its garbage collection service. That doesn't necessarily mean residents would stop getting the service automatically, but instead a private company could be hired to provide it under a contract with the city.

Private haulers could very well offer a net savings both to property owners in the fees they would pay, and to the city in the long-term savings on things like private landfill tipping fees and labor and pension costs. As it stands, the city has 13 full-time employees and five part-timers devoted to refuse collection — and an untold number of former workers collecting retirement benefits.

There are potential cons with such a move to consider, too. Direct city government control over the service would be gone. And while some city garbage workers would likely be hired by a private operator to launch the service in Auburn, it's likely some jobs would be lost (although perhaps some of those could be reassigned to help with the city's parks and roads).

The only way to truly know if this could result in a net savings for both the city and Auburn property owners is to put a request for bids and crunch the numbers. If bids come back and the council isn't comfortable with the options, they can say "no thanks" and continue with the current model.

The council owes it to city taxpayers to continually question the city's operations, methods and expenses rather than continuing to do things the same way just because that's the way they've always been done. That's especially true with a budget proposal packed with tax and fee increases.

The Citizen editorial board includes publisher Michelle Bowers, executive editor Jeremy Boyer and managing editor Mike Dowd.


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