Traverse City Record-Eagle

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March 4, 2014

Editorial: Leaf pickup decision won't settle privatization debate

Privatizing public services like garbage pickup, building maintenance, food services and other work has been popular with public bodies for decades.

The aim is to save money by hiring private firms that will charge less to do the same job than it would cost to keep employees on the public payroll.

As part of a discussion of the annual fall leaf pickup program and a proposal to buy a second city garbage truck to make the work go faster, a majority of city commissioners also made it plain they don’t support the idea of privatizing the leaf pickup or, for that matter, other city services.

“I don’t support privatization of the leaf pickup,” Commissioner Gary Howe said.

Although Commissioner Tim Werner voiced support for exploring privatization, fellow Commissioners Jim Carruthers, Ross Richardson and Jeanine Easterday joined Howe in saying no to privatization of city services.

Carruthers said privatization can work, but the biggest problem is loss of control over how services are performed. He cited a discussion about sidewalk snow removal this winter and how city staff responded when commissioners expressed concerns.

“We speak up and, vroom, things are getting done,” Carruthers said.

Both Carruthers and Richardson said after the meeting that commissioners’ comments had sent a message to Mayor Michael Estes about contracting for services and downsizing city government.

Estes acknowledged that commissioners clearly don’t favor privatization, but his position hasn’t changed.

“I just think we should explore the whole notion of who does the leaf pickup,” Estes said. “Can someone else do it and do it all in one week? Our process takes a whole month.”

Obviously, any discussion of privatizing city services must go beyond an exchange over leaf pickup. If city administrators think they can save taxpayers money and still do the job through privatization, the city manager should make a proposal the commission can debate.

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