Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Wednesday

February 19, 2014

Commissioners won't privatize

TRAVERSE CITY — City commissioners brushed aside a request to contract for annual leaf pick-up while sending a broader message that they don't favor privatization of city services.

Commissioners tabled a request Tuesday to purchase a second garbage truck at a cost of $201,000 for fall and spring leaf pick-ups. Commissioners expressed concern about the need for the truck and how the city funds vehicle purchases and moved the issue to a future study session. But a majority of commissioners also spoke out against Mayor Michael Estes' request to explore privatizing the service.

"I don't support privatization of the leaf pick-up," Commissioner Gary Howe said. "I came here ready to support this request but at the same time I share some of the concerns about (funding)."

Commissioner Tim Werner voiced support for exploring privatization but commissioners Jim Carruthers, Ross Richardson and Jeanine Easterday joined Howe in denouncing privatization of city services.

Carruthers said privatization can work in some cases but the biggest problem is loss of control over how services are performed. He cited sidewalk snow removal and how city staff responded when commissioners expressed concern.

"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 the mayor about contracting for services and downsizing city government.

"He got one person to support exploring the idea," Richardson said. "Yes, that's a message."

Estes said commissioners clearly don't favor privatization but his position remains unchanged.

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

The city owns one 2004 truck that it uses to empty trash cans downtown and at parks, along with leaf pick-up. It previously owned two trucks and city staff cited the lack of a second truck as part of the reason leaf pick-up took so long last fall. But commissioners questioned the need to spend $201,000 for a truck that's only needed for leaf pick-up.

Commissioners tabled the request because they wanted more information about the process used by city staff to decide when to purchase new vehicles from their $2.7 million garage fund.

Richardson called the fund "too rich" and said it encourages staff to buy new vehicles just because they can afford it.

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