These are hard times, and we never blame any organization for looking at ways to lower costs and improve efficiency.
But it’s another thing altogether to tell your customers that a service they rely on and pay for is just going away and too bad if you don’t like it.
But that’s what Dallas City Hall wants to do with alley trash pick-up, a service 44% of Dallas residents use for waste collection.
The idea of ending this service surfaces every few years at City Hall, when someone crunches the numbers and realizes that, lo and behold, it costs more to collect the trash in the alley than it does if residents roll the carts around the house and place them at the curb. Or, more likely, that residents never bother to move the carts back behind the house and instead just leave them out front.
We support government efficiency. But we also believe that a government that keeps charging more and providing less is one that deserves very close scrutiny over how it is managed.
This isn’t a matter of lower taxes. Dallas residents pay for sanitation services each month with their water bill. It’s a fee-for-service department. City Hall reliably raises that fee. In 2010, the cost was $20.34 a month for a single family home. This year, it’s $31.
Despite that, City Hall regularly looks for ways to cut back on what it actually provides in sanitation services. Still, we supported the city last year when it reduced bulk trash pick-up to 10 cubic yards of trash per month from what was basically an unlimited amount. That was a reasonable shift.
But eliminating alley trash pick-up — despite the promised $6.6 million savings — is not. As council member Adam McGough of Lake Highlands wrote: “I can’t imagine our neighborhood streets lined with garbage, the difficulty for many of our seniors trying to move garbage cans to front curbs, or the difficulty navigating around parked cars.”
The city’s argument is that if the cans are on the streets, it can use larger automated trucks and lay off contract laborers who do much of the work collecting trash in alleys. One idea here is that some alleys are in such bad shape that they are barely passable. Never mind that it’s the city’s own neglect that put the alleys in that condition.
The question city management should be asking is what residents want. The answer will come back resoundingly that people are willing to pay for this service — and have been paying for this service — because they need it to ensure their sidewalks are usable and that the elderly and disabled are well served.
The city shouldn’t get away with using this difficult time to bring back an old and rejected idea disguised as a fresh way to save money.
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