Layton raises issue of city trash franchising

The city of Wichita is working on a plan that would limit your ability choose a trash hauler but could trim your trash bill.

City Manager Robert Layton said Friday that a franchised trash service system could be considered by City Council members this winter.

The move would break the city into zones, and every trash hauler currently in business would be guaranteed an area.

A co-op of haulers would likely decide which companies get which areas, and the city would help set basic levels of service.

It's a politically divisive plan that has been discussed several times in recent years, only to disintegrate.

The goal, Layton said, is to drive down costs for consumers.

"We're not going to support anything unless we see a meaningful drop in the price for residents and commercial (customers)," Layton told the Wichita Republican Pachyderm Club.

Layton and David Lies, vice president of Lies Trash Service and president of the Independent Trash Haulers Association, say a big part of that would be driving down tipping fees at the city's two transfer stations.

Sedgwick County does not have its own landfill. Trash is taken to two privately owned facilities, where it is loaded into semis and shipped to distant landfills.

But Layton said he's not sure how the city could cut the tipping fees the companies charge.

Layton said the city calculates that the stations charge about $20 more per ton than their costs.

Waste Connections charges $55 a ton at its station at 4300 W. 37th St. North and Waste Disposal charges $53 a ton at its station at 55th South and Hoover Road.

Waste Connections couldn't be reached for comment.

Kent Wilkens, co-owner of Waste Disposal, said his costs are driven by transportation costs and the fees at the landfill in Harper operated by Waste Connections.

Wilkens said he competitively bids with trucking companies to haul the trash, pulls tires and metals from the trash to save on costs and has to pay whatever fee the landfill charges.

"Our hands are tied," he said.

Wilkens, whose business does not involve trash pickup, acknowledged that a franchise system could drive down some costs by haulers, but questions how that could affect consumers.

"If we're stuck with one or two carriers, and you're stuck with bad service, where do you go for good service?" he asked.

Lies said a franchise system could work, but might be limiting.

"I wouldn't be able to grow, but I'd be guaranteed to stay in business," he said.

The plan's success would hinge on the city's ability to control fees at transfer stations, he said.

"If nobody is regulating tipping fees... and they keep raising tipping fees down the road and we can't increase our price, they'll run us out of business," he said.

Lies said the City Council could reject the idea, consumers might rebel against not having choices, and some neighborhoods could lose existing contracts with companies that have kept their rates down.

"There were still a lot of unanswered questions," he said.