A stated desire to improve trash collection and residential recycling in Pasco County hit the Dumpster in a matter of just two months. County commissioners sure can be efficient when they want to extend inefficiencies.
In early March, commissioners agreed to a staff pitch to seek franchise contracts for trash collection as a way to bolster recycling and to replace the hodge-podge of eight private haulers competing for the same customers. It is a wasteful system leading to multiple trucks driving down the same residential streets on the same days, but picking up only some of the curbside trash. Ditto for the underperforming curbside blue bag recycling program.
It's not a new idea. Two years ago, a commission majority endorsed the suggestion — and mandatory recycling — with enthusiasm only to retreat months later amid lobbying from haulers advocating the status quo.
This time the haulers didn't even have to object. Commissioner Pat Mulieri scuttled the franchise idea last week, saying the commission had too much on its plate. A crowded plate, but still room in the campaign treasury. Consider:
County recycling coordinator Jennifer Seney briefed commissioners on the franchise proposal March 2. Mulieri opened her campaign re-election account March 8 and then accepted a combined $3,000 from six haulers over the next three weeks. The solid-waste industry accounted for 22 percent of Mulieri's campaign contributions (excluding a loan from herself) during the reporting period. Commissioner Michael Cox, also seeking re-election, accepted $2,000 from trash haulers between July 2009 and the end of March. The industry accounted for roughly 3 percent of his donations through March 31.
Cox and the rest of the board acquiesced to Mulieri's request to delay pursuing franchise agreements. The limited discussion came as the commission updated its business plan for the coming year. Afterward, Mulieri said the county just has too much to do and the franchise areas would best be considered in the context of planned urban service areas. She also said the haulers have not lobbied her and her position is unrelated to her campaign account.
Regardless, her stated reasoning for the delay is weak. The time line had called for the staff to devise franchise areas and seek requests for proposals over the course of the next 16 months. A likely target date for inception would have been fall 2011. Instead, we're left with the status quo of a solid waste system that everybody states publicly is in need of repair but is guided by a commission that displays no motivation toward improving it.
A commission waylaid by its inability to pursue a vision beyond the summer budget season or the fall election season is a disconcerting and too-frequent occurrence. Supposedly, this commission wants to leap into excellence via a lean, efficient and accountable county government.
Accountable to whom? Special interests or a constituency that has shown an eagerness to improve the county's recycling performance?