Whether a taxpayer-funded service should compete with private industry came into question last week when a Old West Sanitation lost a bid for trash service to the city of Craig by $13.
"I really don't know that it's a huge deal," Mayor Dave DeRose said. "I've watched the city take over for a private hauler six or seven times when that hauler went out of business."
Steve Durbin, owner of Old West Sanitation said the city is trying to put a private business out of business and is doing that by giving free service on four of the nine service points bid.
"How can you operate four out of nine (sites) for free when you couldn't afford to operate at $25 a ton a month ago," Durbin told the Craig Daily Press last week.
The Moffat County Commissioners didn't raise landfill fees to $25 a ton last month because they feared they would loss the city's business.
"I didn't say I couldn't operate (at $25 a ton), I tried to get (the commissioners) to come down by making a good business decision," said Randy Call, Craig Road and Bridge Department supervisor.
Call said people shouldn't focus on what the city didn't charge for, they should focus on what it did.
"A sealed bid is a sealed bid. The bottom line is the final bids were similar," he said. "From a bid standpoint, it's the bottom line that counts, not what's in the middle."
City ordinance gives him the authority to negotiate any multiple container contract, he said.
That's the only leeway Call has in a sealed bid process, he said. Because the city solid waste department is a public entity, it must publish its prices. That gave Durbin an automatic advantage during the bid process, Call said.
The dumpsters Call is not charging the county for are those on established routes with little weight, City Manager Jim Ferree said.
"The city is not losing any money by providing service to those dumpsters at no charge," he said. "The city is covering its costs with the county contract."
Call said Durbin knew what he would be competing against when he first opened his business.
"He knew what the score was before he ever hung his shingle," he said. "He came to Craig to compete with us."
The city has been providing trash service since 1952 when there were no other options.
"We've always been in trash service and we've had private business come in and compete with us, which is fine," Ferree said. "
In the mid-1970s, a private hauler started a business in Craig. The city went to a fully automated residential pick up system and expanded its commercial accounts because of public outcry against the high prices the private hauler was charging.
In 1990, the city and county entered into a Memorandum of Understanding for an exchange of services, including trash service. Call estimates that exchange saved the county between $15,000 and $20,000 over what it was previously paying. In 1998, the county voted to terminate that agreement and return to a private hauler for service.
The city has 258 accounts outside the city limits.
"The last thing I would do if I were looking to get into business is go into a community with a solid waste department and try to go head-to-head," Call said.
The city's solid waste department is an enterprise fund, which means it pays for itself using the fees generated. Craig's solid waste fund hasn't used any general fund money to operate since 1993. According to Call, revenues generated from the solid waste fund are used to offset some general fund expenses. In 2003, the solid waste department will contribute $91,974 to the city's general fund. The department makes Payments in Lieu of Taxes and pays a portion of several salaries that used to be paid fully by the general fund.
"We really try to make our enterprise funds bolster the general fund so we don't have to raise taxes," DeRose said.
The city sponsors clean up days in which the collects trash at a central location, hauls it to the landfill and the solid waste fund pays the fees. Free trash service is also provided during some special events.
"Our profits go back into the community," Call said. "I don't take that home with me like private business does. We offer service at the lowest possible cost. We're not here to line our pockets like private business."
Ferree said the city is providing a public service that many times wouldn't have been available if the city didn't provide it.
"Until a private business can provide a better service at a cheaper rate, we'll continue to take care of those residents," he said.
The city's solid waste service got high marks in a 2000 community survey. 80.1 percent rated the service acceptable or very acceptable and 2.6 percent rated it unacceptable or very unacceptable.
Residents can chose between using the city as their trash hauler or a private business.
Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, Ext. 210 or by e-mail at email@example.com.