Free market capitalism-1; Government intervention-0 as Garbage Franchise postponed indefinitely

Free market capitalism-1; Government intervention-0.  Wednesday’s 7-3 Finance Committee vote to “postpone indefinitely” the discussion of Solid Waste Management Overlay Zones laid to rest Ascension Parish government’s entry into the franchise garbage business, at least for now.

Why was it up for discussion in the first place after multiple Strategic Planning committee sessions addressed the subject in 2017?  Since then two providers, Waste Pro and Republic, failed to maintain weekly garbage collection in multiple highly publicized cases.

A dozen public speakers submitted the red cards denoting opposition to the 10% franchise fee; without a single proponent of what most viewed to be a tax.  Others lambasted the franchise proposal as a first step toward an exclusive agreement that would drive local providers like Dales Garbage out of business (even though the draft ordinance provided for “non-exclusive” franchise agreements).

“I hear a lot of talk about forcing one provider on the parish,” Councilman Aaron Lawler opened pro-discussion comments.  “That’s not the intent of myself or anybody that I’ve talked to about this.  I think a lot of people have been misled which is a shame people get misled so easily.”

He also decried the hefty 10% fee before claiming to have an inkling about who was doing the alleged misleading (he didn’t identify the individual(s).  He would join Finance Chairwoman Teri Casso and Councilman Travis Turner in the minority, all insisting there is a problem with Waste Pro’s and Republic’s failure to provide consistent service.  They bemoaned the parish’s inability to regulate the two behemoths, couching the detailed ordinance draft as a vehicle by which more discussion might be had toward resolution.

Council members and public speakers alike lauded the service provided by Dales Garbage, locally-owned and operated by Dale Hidalgo whose business is booming after numerous complaints against his larger competitors.  Such “free market solutions” were advocated by several speakers, some of whom had switched over to Dales Garbage recently.  While Dales does not operate parish-wide, other providers have emerged like Valet Garbage Services.

“While we can’t penalize the non-performers in the garbage business, their poor performance will penalize them in the long run,” declared Councilman Randy Clouatre.

Chairwoman Casso cited one individual in her District 8 whose idea of garbage disposal is “throwing it out his front door.”  How requiring companies to enter a franchise agreement to operate in Ascension would remedy such private activity is anyone’s guess.

According to Councilman Daniel “Doc” Satterlee a regulatory mechanism already exists; Louisiana Department of Health.  LDH Chief of Field Operations Carolyn Bombet appeared before Strategic Planning Committee on October 12, 2017 to describe a four-step process when “your constituents are complaining of neighbors piling up garbage.”  LDH performs an inspection which could lead to issuance of Notice of Violation and 30 days to remedy the problem; or an administrative law judge could levy fines and/or penalties in the worst case.

Bombet informed Strategic Planning that LDH handled 60 requests in Ascension last year, 43 having been resolved without getting that far.

It was Councilman Bill Dawson who made the motion to postpone the discussion indefinitely, noting the lack of a “green card” in support of the ordinance.  “This is not the solution,” he declared adding it was “back to the drawing board.”

Requiring franchise agreements for garbage collection is not a new idea.  In 2012 Strategic Planning, then chaired by former councilman, Kent Schexnaydre, spent the better part of three committee meetings on the subject which resulted in a similar ordinance proposed at two 2013 meetings of the committee.

On February 4, 2013 Thomas “Moose” Pearce, Executive Assistant to the parish president at the time, declared “we’re gonna go with an exclusive contract…presumably, the best deal for our citizens.”  That draft ordinance included “a Franchise Fee of 1% of the monthly charge to residential customers remitted to the parish monthly.”  On Wednesday Legal Counsel O’Neil Parenton claimed the 10% fee in the current proposal was merely a starting point.

Five years ago it was Teri Casso, along with Aaron Lawler’s District 7 predecessor, who argued for an exclusive garbage provider in Ascension.  Casso and Chris Loar deemed “economies of scale” as the path to provide more services at a lower price.  That proposal flamed out without being fully extinguished.

Councilman Todd Lambert has less grandiose plans to address what is an isolated problem.  He scheduled a meeting with Republic in the hope that some amicable resolution might be achieved.