The Free Press, Mankato, MN


November 29, 2012

Our View: Taxpayers should come first in city business

— As the North Mankato City Council continues a legitimate discussion on changes to its recycling contract in the year ahead, what's best for taxpayers should be the overriding context.

The decision will not be easy and will likely include concerns from some council members about the impact on the recycling facility jointly owned by the city and Nicollet County. Some council members may raise the issue of sticking with a local business as part of an implied loyalty.

All are legitimate concerns and worthy of discussion. But in the end, what's best for taxpayers should guide this decision.

North Mankato finds itself renewing the contract of Hansen Sanitation for recycling. The current system requires North Mankato residents to sort their recycling into as many as seven separate grocery bags for paper, cans, plastic and five colors of glass.

The council was apparently feeling pressure to renew as the year ended even though Waste Management offered much more user friendly, single-sort recycling at a lower cost than North Mankato is currently paying.

Waste Management's bid came in at $5.65 per household per month, $1.82 less than Hansen.

Part of the city's dilemma is that Hansen is required under the current city contract to deliver the recyclables to the city-county owned recycling facility, which prepares recyclables for sale on the open market.

The bid from Waste Management would have directed the recyclables to the company's own facility, thereby reducing the volume and the business to North Mankato's own facility. And even if Waste Management was required to deliver to North Mankato's facility, the plant might have to be modified at some expense to process the single-sort deliveries.

If North Mankato went with Waste Management in the contract where the company used its own facility, the North Mankato facility would lose business and may have to reduce a workforce made up  of workers from MRCI, an organization that offers employment to people with developmental disabilities.

But looking at the issue from a taxpayer's perspective lends itself to an analysis that the cost and ease of recycling should be the primary concern and the business volume of the city-county owned recycling center should be a secondary concern.

The joint city-county recycling center, called Riverbend Recycling Center, is set up to serve all of Nicollet County, with the exception of St. Peter. It was set up as a government business with the assumption that it would be operated as a business, accepting the ups and downs of the business cycle.

While a government-owned recycling center may have been a convenient option for the Hansen recycling, the market may be changing. Waste Management is offering a better price to city taxpayers and will make sorting recycling easier.

Those are two big pluses in this equation.

More research may suggest the loss of business at the recycling center would impact taxpayers more than a recycling rate decrease. We hope that is not the case because it suggests taxpayers are a subsidizing board of directors for the recycling center.

Governments are set up to serve taxpayers. They should negotiate for the best price and highest value on public services. Government should not make taxpayers unintended stockholders of a business they have little control over.


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