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City looking at sanitation department privitization

Editorial by Matt Marquardt –

Following one of its priorities for this year, the Mayor and Council is aggressively pursuing a request for proposals (RFP) for garbage and recycled items pick-up in the city in order to see if it can be done cheaper by private enterprise.

(PHOTO: A Mason City sanitation worker dumps garbage from a home on East State Street Thursday morning.)

The City will be seeking RFP’s from local trash haulers as well as itself; yes I said itself, as the City seems to be unclear on how much it costs to run this operation, an operation it has been running for decades.  It says on the typical monthly water/sanitation bill that garbage pick up is $9.00 per month.  That cost will rise to $9.60 per month on July 1.  The cost has risen about 10 cents per year on average over the last several years.

The jobs of twelve city employees hang in the balance as the council examines this issue.

The council seems to be split on privatizing the sanitation department, if you can believe that, as they have been lock-step so far on everything as far as voting goes.  The only time any council member ever publicly voiced dissent on any issue was when John Lee questioned Mayor Bookmeyer’s deal with the Harley Dealership, brokered at the Mason City Country Club, saying it set a bad precedent.

According to sources close to the City Council, Alex Kuhn will not be supporting privatization of the sanitation department.  “I have no intention of supporting this,” he said recently. “I believe we provide a quality city service and that we shouldn’t be sending a message to city workers that their jobs are on the line when they do a great job.”

Mr. Kuhn may be right about the city sending a bad message to its employees.  It was only a year ago that former City Councilman Don Nelson wrote that “Under Mayor Bookmeyer… lowest morale of City Staff in 20+ years.”

Kuhn went on to say that “At this point I believe (there) is Council support for this to move forward.”

He would likely be referring to Jean Marinos, Travis Hickey and Janet Solberg, big proponents of anything Bookmeyer brings forward.  They let Bookmeyer and City Administrator Brent Trout do the thinking, they simply cast the votes.

It is unclear where John Lee stands on the issue, and Scott Tornquist seems to want it both ways, recently communicating “As the Council, we owe it to the community to ensure that our citizens, the ones footing the bills, are receiving the best service at the best cost. From time to time it makes sense to look closely at our operations to make sure we are doing just that. Many communities have privatized trash collection; many have not. It remains to be seen what the outcome of our RFP process will be.”

This issue will likely become clearer after next Tuesday’s council work session; it’s on the agenda.

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