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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The paradox of city services

City governments are involved in all sorts of industries that people claim are essential to our well being and can only be provided by government. Furthermore, it is argued that poor people wouldn't normally be able to afford services that are provided by tax dollars from those who are relatively well off. Ultimately, these arguments don't convince me. If you're really worried about poor people, why aren't they the only recipients of these services? Why are the rest of us forced to use city trash, when we could afford to pay for a private, more competitive service?

Another huge problem is that as the economy worsens, cities are forced to cut back on these services. Thus, at times when there are more poor people than normal and they are needed the most, government is busy cutting back or eliminating them all together. Trash collection is a great example of this. Last year, city officials were considering moving to a shifting trash collection schedule. Which ultimately means less and more complicated service. This is a classic case of what happens when you only have one trash collection provider by force to choose from.

Trash is now being looked at again, as Toledo unsurprisingly still has not solved its financial problems.

With a projected 2009 deficit of at least $22 million, Bill Franklin, the city's public service director, acknowledged that the city could no longer afford its $12.7 million trash collection operation.
There are only a limited number of ways the city can address this problem. According to this new Blade article, they are looking at hiring a private company to save money, or shelling out another large sum of money to buy automated trucks.This only goes to show that, once again, city services are behind the curve when it comes to what they offer, compared to what is typically available in the marketplace. Otherwise, the city still went ahead with its plan of raising trash collection fees and reducing the number of trash collection days it provides.

Another great example is how the city of Columbus suspended its yard waste pickup program. While their taxes previously went to pay for it, there will now be a $49.50 subscription fee when the service is reinstated. Clearly, the government provided service there has not been adequate to provide the people's needs. Once again, classic monopolistic behavior: cut services and raise fees. Yet another reason we shouldn't be forced to rely on them in the first place. Do I think people would suffer if the government didn't engage in monopolistic trash pickup? Not really. Nor do I think allowing personal choice in trash service would make the city become a giant garbage heap.

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