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Pasco considers forming garbage franchise areas

Pasco officials are working on a new plan for this old idea: Carving the county into garbage franchise areas that would each be served by one hauler.

Haulers have fought past proposals to change Pasco's long-established open market set-up, which lets the nine permitted companies compete for customers anywhere in the county.

But Jennifer Seney, county recycling coordinator, told Pasco commissioners last week that franchising collection services will be one of her top initiatives next fiscal year.

Her pitch: Fewer trucks on neighborhood streets, lower residential rates, more recycling.

As she later noted, with a chuckle, none of the commissioners objected to her moving forward with the plan: "They didn't stop me, did they?"

Seney said in an interview that the initiative to try again for franchising garbage pick-up coincides with the county's new planning efforts to focus on concentrating new development in urban areas.

"Franchising goes hand in hand with that," she said, because it is an efficient way to collect trash in densely populated areas.

The idea, too, is that haulers would charge residences less because their costs aren't as high: Shorter routes, reduced fuel costs and higher participation.

Recycling advocates have pushed for franchising as a way to increase participation. County officials could write franchise agreements so that the haulers bidding on them would be required to offer curbside recycling pick-up. Seney said the agreements could require haulers to invest in recycling bins for the service as opposed to the blue bags.

Officials tie increased recycling to another initiative for next year: Figuring out how to address the county's crowded facility that processes recyclables. That facility is at capacity and can't be expanded because it is surrounded by the Shady Hills wastewater treatment plant.

Seney told commissioners last week she'll also look into building a new facility elsewhere on the Shady Hill property or look for a long-term service contractor to process and market the recyclables.

Seney said she plans to spend next year, likely with the help of a consultant, studying franchise agreements in other counties and coming up with a proposal for Pasco.

Previous proposals for franchising included letting the nine haulers bid on four areas, something that didn't sit well with smaller firms that could not compete with the large national corporations.

Seney said she's seen other franchise agreements that have some protections for the smaller companies. Palm Beach County, for instance, limits the number of customers any one hauler can serve.

Commissioner Michael Cox said the details of the franchise agreement will be what sell him on it. He said his support may hinge on how many franchise areas county officials recommend setting up.

"The concern I have is for the small guys," he said. "I don't want to put them out of business."

Joe Assalti, division manager for Seaside Sanitation in Hudson, said he has no doubt that Pasco will eventually move to a franchise system, especially for the areas that are built out. Seaside is part of Arizona-based Republic Services.

"I think over time it's going to have to happen," he said.

The pros, he said, are lower rates, better efficiencies for haulers, "and the county roads would be maintained for a longer period of time."

But he said the cons are that smaller haulers may not qualify to handle franchise areas based on the geographic area. "And customers would lose their freedom of choice."

He, too, said the viability of a new system would depend on how officials set up the franchise areas, and how they set up the qualifications for each hauler.

"I think it's a complicated process and the county would have to think about how to do it," he said. "It may have to happen in Pasco County. We're not that rural little county any more."

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

Pasco considers forming garbage franchise areas 03/06/10 [Last modified: Saturday, March 6, 2010 2:10pm]
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