Memphis Exploring Privatizing Sanitation Services

Memphis taxpayers remain frustrated with the city-operated sanitation service. Around this time last year, my colleague Len Gilroy wrote about a town hall meeting organized by Memphis public employees to oppose privatization of city sanitation services. Ironically by the end of the town hall meeting the citizens started shouting, “Privatize it!”

WHBQ-TV Fox13 reports the Memphis City Council is now seriously considering privatizing sanitation services, led by City Councilman Kemp Conrad. Privatization is expected to save Memphis taxpayers $25 million dollars (recurring and ongoing.) Officials are also proposing buying out long-term sanitation workers that would not receive a pension ($75,000 each for more than 100 city employees.) Besides offering cost-savings, privatization is expected to improve service quality. Officials are proposing more than doubling the number of sanitation service stops from 450 stops per day to 950 stops per day.

Councilman Conrad bluntly defends privatization in an interview with Fox13 saying:

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out when you have one truck automated and one person and we have trucks that aren’t automated with two or three people, which is more efficient? If (inefficient policy) is going to be our philosophy we should go back to Dictaphones, get rid of word processors and our police officers, we should get the mounted Cavalry and get rid of our police cars if that’s going to be our philosophy of not doing things more efficiently.

Cash-strapped local governments across the country continue to struggle to balance budgets and privatization remains an attractive alternative to service cuts. While the private sector already provides a wide range of municipal services, sanitation services are ubiquitous since over one-third of U.S. metropolitan areas are partnering with for-profit contractors to provide residential and commercial waste collection, hazardous and medical material removal, and waste disposal. Competitive delivery of solid waste services typically generates cost savings on the order of 20 to 40 percent.

According to Reason Foundation’s Annual Privatization Report 2010: Local Government Privatization, some of the latest cities to pursue privatizing sanitation services include Chicago, Illinois and Newark, New Jersey.

  • The Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation issued a request for proposals in November 2010 for firms to take over the city’s residential recycling program and reinvest cost savings into the expansion of recycling services to the two-thirds of the city currently not served.
  • Newark Mayor Corey Booker is exploring the privatization of garbage collection services as a part of a larger effort to find citywide cost savings through outsourcing. Booker’s 2010 budget called for the elimination of 220 of the city’s 251 sanitation workers, and officials estimate that the city could save $7 million a year by privatizing trash collection.

For more ways to streamline government and achieve cost savings in public service delivery see Reason Foundation’s Privatizing “Yellow Pages” Government and Annual Privatization Report 2010: Local Government Privatization.