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Commentary: Outsourcing trash collection would save $17M

September 06, 2013|By Keith D. Curry and Michael F. Henn

Seventeen million dollars. That is the savings that can be achieved over the next seven years if Newport Beach contracts out its trash collection service. That's a lot of money, too much to be dismissed, and it could be put to good use providing community infrastructure to keep Newport Beach in top shape.

However, while $17 million in cost savings is highly significant, it is our view that contracting should only be undertaken if we can guarantee that service will remain at the same high level or even be improved. We now believe that can be achieved.

It is important to note that Newport Beach is the only Orange County city that picks up trash with municipal employees, and one of very few that does not charge for trash collection. The municipal code prohibits charging residents for trash collection, and this cannot be changed without a vote of the people. Contracting the service to a private vendor will not change that in any way.

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There are compelling reasons to consider outsourcing trash collection. One big reason is that so much of Newport Beach already has outsourced trash collection. Newport Coast, Newport Ridge, Crystal Cove, Belcourt, Bonita Canyon, Bay Knolls, the area west of Irvine Avenue near the Upper Bay, and East and West Santa Ana Heights all have been served by private refuse collection providers for many years.

Our customer satisfaction surveys show the service level in these places is equal to the service provided by the city's crews. Even places like Laguna Beach, with its challenging hillsides, trees, and narrow streets and alleyways, have privatized and automated trash service.

When the decision was made to consider outsourcing trash collection, we followed a methodical process to evaluate service options and to measure actual costs and potential savings. We want an apples-to-apples comparison and no surprises. We talked with residents, neighboring cities and our employees. An outside expert with no ties to the city or the industry was brought in to ensure that we were accurately measuring our costs and to ensure that we did not create any loopholes or diminish services through this process.

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