By Tom Heller
Received Dec. 23
Recently, I witnessed the board of the Bartholomew County Solid Waste Management District (SWMD) accept bids to buy a new $174,000 rear-load garbage truck to be deployed picking up recyclable cardboard from businesses in and around Columbus. It will replace an aging, 11-year-old truck whose $100,000 annual operating costs have been split between the city and the county.
Apparently, the managers of the SWMD believe they have found a “gold mine” in the recycled cardboard business. Almost 90 percent of their recycling revenue (upwards of $200,000 annually) now comes from cardboard collection alone.
County Commissioner Larry Kleinhenz, a SWMD board member, thinks the district can “grow” their cardboard business by another 50 percent, especially if they get a second collection truck (a front-loader that likely would cost $40,000 more than this rear-loader.)
Unfortunately, even with this rich “mine” of money from cardboard, SWMD loses money on its recycling program. A recent analysis by Umbaugh & Co. places a figure of $316,981 on the tax subsidy SWMD’s recycling program consumes. (That doesn’t count the cost of buying new collection trucks.)
Do you know any other business — propped up by tax dollars or not — that justifies investing the equivalent of a year’s worth of sales on a single new piece of equipment? Why do we allow a branch of our government to do that?
Collecting recyclable cardboard need not be a subsidized, government-run, capital-intensive enterprise. It certainly wouldn’t be if we let small entrepreneurs serve this market, but as long as SWMD is assured of receiving $800,000 a year from local property taxes to subsidize their activities, that’s all we’ll ever get.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We need to open up recycling to small entrepreneurs. We need to figure out a way government can “make a market” for their services, not use tax dollars to drive them away.
So long as the city and SWMD tilt the table in their favor by dipping deep into their tax money to buy costly new equipment, entrepreneurs will never be attracted to this market. Our local governments have made competition from small entrepreneurs just too risky and too costly.
Why should government be in a business that the private sector can serve more efficiently?