KRQE’s Larry Barker should be commended for his probe of the City of Santa Fe’s Environmental Services Division. The reporter’s four-month investigation revealed that “administrators failed to address hundreds of safety-related defects in many of its older garbage trucks.”
Allowed to peruse “1,400 maintenance and inspection reports for Santa Fe trash trucks,” the New Mexico Trucking Association’s Johnny Johnson concluded that the city’s “fleet is poorly maintained and there is a total disregard for public safety.”
As Barker noted, one of the reasons the city was allowed to be so slipshod is that “government-owned trucks” are exempt from federal regulations. (When the chief of New Mexico’s Motor Transportation Division was asked “if regulated, would Santa Fe’s truck fleet be subject to some kind of compliance action,” the official replied, “Absolutely.”)
But it’s worth stepping back a bit, and pondering a rather basic question: Why does Santa Fe operate refuse trucks at all?
More than half of the nation’s municipalities contract out all or a portion of garbage/recycling collection. The Reason Foundation’s Leonard Gilroy describes the benefits as “cost savings (competitive delivery of solid waste services typically generates cost savings on the order of 20 to 40 percent), enhanced risk management, efficiency or technology improvements, and debt reduction.”
Some recent developments:
* Portland, Maine is exploring the privatization of “of its trash and recyclables as part of a review that is expected to bring major changes to a waste management program that has become increasingly unpopular with residents and municipal officials”
* Hunterdon County, New Jersey, which “has been looking for some time to get out of the waste business,” is looking to “contract with another county, or contract with another private entity” to operate its transfer station
* Fall River, Massachusetts has successfully contracted out trash collection, with the goal of saving “just under $1.5 million in fiscal 2017 and $8.7 million over the life of the [ten-year] contract”
Closer to home, in January, the Santa Fe Chamber of Commerce compiled a list of recommendations to tackle The City Different’s many budget woes. The organization wrote what while “marginally profitable on an operating basis,” the Environmental Services Division could be replaced by firms competent “in the management of both recyclable and disposable waste. Ongoing evaluation of privatization options is warranted.” After Barker’s investigation, such an evaluation is downright urgent.