SADOW: Shreveport Could Learn From Bossier City About Privatization

At least Bossier City seems to get it some of the time, whereas Shreveport can’t even make that much progress.

Last year, Shreveport politicians discussed charging fees, including an extra buck on water bills, to deal with residential waste pickup that often was out of bounds from ordinance. Originally, significant cost hikes were talked of to Shreveport households for those with multiple containers and those disposing of significant yard waste and furniture curbside. Heretofore these actually have been against ordinance but never enforced. The $1 monthly fee was discussed to be added to water bills, which was claimed would go to paying for street cleaning and litter abatement, but the city seemed to lose enthusiasm for that rate increase as well.

Some reform made sense. Putting out large immovable items does put a strain on solid waste collection for the space but even more for the time involved to get it in and compacted in a truck. Eventually, the city decided to issue fines rather than extra charges.

The stricture on yard waste has proven the most controversial. Larger households or those with occupants of special needs that have any appreciable amount of foliage find with difficulty enough room in their 96-gallon cart (“leased” by the household for $50) for all of this a few times a year or more. This means more carts or having to reduce yard waste to segments smaller than four feet in length, besides extra bags that may have to be used.

One suspects this is a pricing device partly to make up for the city’s money-losing recycling program where households already get hit up for $2.50 a month (again, on the water bill) regardless of whether they recycle or how much, which still isn’t enough to pay for it. The thinking may have been a collection fee prompts more diversion of recyclables – making citizens who have them work for the city’s goals in addition already to pay for it, in order to avoid paying even more.

The real solution is not cost shifting to the citizenry but in finding a more efficient means of service provision. That should come through contracting out the service. Data indicate that in the vast majority of situations savings can be had without a decline in the quality of service, on the order perhaps of 20-40 percent. Not every local government situation might work out this way; for example, economies of scale with a relatively isolated location means small cities may be able to do it cheaper on their own.

This is the path that Bossier City wisely is taking. The city opted out of its contract for trash pickup with Shreveport and went with a private contractor beginning this week. Even though directly to the residential household this will increase costs, when considering indirect costs it should save money over the long haul, for with general revenues the city already was subsidizing residential pickup at about $2 a month.

Better, there seems little demand to add the additional recycling service. If the city wants to go in the direction, this should be voluntary. This could be accomplished by having it lease a recycling container on a monthly basis, adding it to the water bill to households willing to pay the extra fee, which would pay for the difference between what the city would get for the recyclables and the cost for the contractor to pick them up on a special day to do it.

But in another unfortunate way, Shreveport is following Bossier City on the issue of water provision. Almost three years ago, the east bank city passed along large rate increases to upgrade this, when these could have been absorbed by debt had the city not wasted so much money on a money-losing arena, a parking garage for a outdoor shopping mall that went into receivership, and on a high-tech office building that created next to no new jobs.

Now, the west bank city looks to follow suit with an even larger proportional rate increase, for the same necessity of upgrading – adding insult to injury after another stiff increase five years ago for the same reason in a city with little growth since then. Again, funds squandered – on a city-owned hotel, a poorly overseen stadium refurbishing and questionable lending regarding its use, and on sludge – could have been used to ameliorate the blow to the citizenry. And it repeats in missing the obvious solution of privatization, as noted previously in this space, which also could have resulted in lower costs.

At least Bossier City has shown some glimmers of hope that it is willing to reduce its fixation on big government. No such trend seems evident in the case of Shreveport.

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