Good for Wichita City Manager Robert Layton for wanting to lower the price of his proposed trash and recycling plan. But he won’t be able to negotiate the low rates paid by most area towns and many neighborhood associations unless he is willing to franchise trash collection or let some small haulers go out of business — and Layton thinks neither option is politically viable.
Layton told The Eagle editorial board last week that he planned to meet again with area trash haulers. Based on Eagle news coverage and feedback from Wichita residents who are paying much less than $20 per month, he thinks haulers should agree to a lower price — particularly when, per Layton’s proposal, the city would cover all the billing expenses.
But Layton said the price won’t be as low as what residents in Derby pay — which is $15.14 per month. The reason is that Derby and other area cities franchised their trash collection with one hauler.
Layton said he developed the trash plan on the premise of not putting anyone out of business. So his proposal calls for a trash cooperative in which haulers are assigned the same percentage of the trash market that they have now.
The problem is that most of the independent haulers have small operations and don’t have the economies of scale that the national companies have. They’ve told Layton that they can’t afford to haul trash for the rates paid in Derby and elsewhere.
It’s good that Layton is trying to make the trash plan a win-win for haulers and consumers. But city trash policy shouldn’t be held hostage by the economics of a few small haulers. Per his plan, Wichitans could be paying at least 25 percent more than they need to in order to subsidize small haulers, regardless of whether they actually use those haulers.
Even if protecting small haulers is a goal, there are ways to do that while still franchising. For example, Wichita could be divided into trash regions. One of those regions could be reserved for a cooperative of smaller haulers.
Layton understands this, but he doesn’t think the City Council would approve franchising. As it is, he noted, some council members think his current plan is too much government intervention.
In addition to meeting with the haulers, Layton plans to hold public meetings on the trash plan. But he could soon be facing another political reality: City Council elections.
Council members up for re-election — including Mayor Carl Brewer — may become even more reluctant to tackle a controversial trash overhaul if an election is looming. Layton wants to avoid that, too.
“I don’t want the April elections to be a community referendum on trash,” he said.
But it may be too late.