The Government Shouldn’t Compete With Private Businesses for Profits

Trash waits to be collected in south Fargo. Dave Wallis / The Forum

Garbage collection is a service that, for the most part, ought to be left to the private sector.

In some communities it may make sense to have some sort of municipal garbage service. Maybe because there isn’t anyone in the private sector willing to provide it. In that situation, perhaps a government solution makes sense.

But in larger communities? Where there are plenty of private options? There is really no good reason why private companies can’t compete, offering different prices and levels of service to the public.

Most of us pay our city government to collect our trash for us, and for the most part this works ok. But what if city government used their monopoly on residential garbage collection to push into areas served by private companies? And not to fill some gap in service, either, but strictly for revenues?

That’s what is happening in Minot right now. City leaders are considering expanding municipal garbage collection to residential properties of four units or less. The city already competes with private businesses to serve these units. What they’re proposing now is taking it over completely.

The reasoning behind the move? The city wants revenues:

Public Works Director Dan Jonasson said expanding the service could bring in as much as $250,000 in income to the city per year, and the city has the right to pursue it. The expansion would not be implemented until next summer.

“My concern with that is, then what?” Dan Ruby, a Republican lawmaker from Minot who also owns Circle Sanitation, told city leaders. “Are we going to move into other commercial accounts? Are we going to move over to other residential-type multi-family commercial accounts, such as trailer courts, which we provide right now?”

Ruby is right to be upset. The city is moving in on his business and others. If this move goes forward he will be asked to compete with the city government, which is hardly a fair fight.

And, again, the city isn’t doing it because there is some legitimate public need. There’s not some gap in garbage collection services which needs to be filled. They’re doing it for profits, as the Public Works Director said himself.

That’s wrong. It’s indefensible. It ought not happen.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from 1-2pm weekdays.

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