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Sedgwick County trash franchising: on the road to economic perdition

I received this letter to Sedgwick County (Kansas) Commissioner David Unruh “over the transom” and I thought it merited reading by the general public. The author speaks of the “road to economic perdition.” I had to use the dictionary to refresh my memory of the exact meaning of the word “perdition.” While that term seems at first to be a little strong, I believe that trash franchising, like a ban on smoking, is just the first step in the plans of our local government officials. If politicians and newspaper editorialists can convince us that we require the force of government to take care of something as simple as picking up the trash — something that works very well already – it’s an easy jump to the next level of control. So perdition seems appropriate.

The May 21 Wichita Eagle reported that you and a number of other commissioners want to impose some sort of franchise on trash collection by cities operating in the area where Sedgwick County is responsible for trash disposal with state authorities. The Eagle quotes you as supporting a government franchise monopoly by haulers in specific areas as well as uniform terms for collection of residential refuse.

Before joining the commission I know that you were a businessman in the car repair business. Since government monopolies and uniformity in service is apparently preferable to free markets and open competition I hope that you will want to extend government into providing uniform monopoly in car repair as well as other private sector businesses. If the county’s goal is ending duplication of services and allegedly “wasteful” competition what basis do you have for only limiting franchising to trash hauling?

It is very clear to even the most casual consumer that there is significant variations in pricing among the folks repairing automobiles just like there are in the trash hauling business. There is a lack of uniformity in people getting their cars repaired too.

I must also note that an Unruh repair shop near 13th St. W. and Maize Rd. is only a short distance away from Westlink Auto Service. Having two firms competing for customers is obviously as duplicative and excessive as multiple trash firms going down the same street to collect refuse.

We have a similar situation nearby where two instances of two separate firms selling groceries are located on adjacent corners at 21st W and Maize Rd. (Walmart and Dillons) as well as Maize Rd. and W. Central (Aldi and Dillons).

Government monopolies have also a proven track record of performance. There is a name for this when university students study 20th century governments where these types of restrictions are commonplace.

Look how Wichita water and sewer rates have performed in the last few years and how it now appears likely that the city will be once again raising these rates significantly soon. Municipal power plants that dot many small Kansas towns also have a similar track record of costly performance for the citizens who have to pay the rates.

The City of Wichita got out of the trash hauling business in the late 1970’s for a reason. Establishing private/public franchise monopolies is a power that should be exercised very cautiously and carefully and has failed in the past. However, if you are going to expand local government’s roles in establishing ways of eliminating duplication of services and wasteful competition, you should fully understand where this road to economic perdition leads.

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