On June 20th I went to the Destin City Council Meeting to help my friend and colleague, Sky Monteith, to create a less expensive police contract than that offered by Sheriff Larry Ashley of Okaloosa County.
What I came away with was a picture, in miniature, of why our country is in as bad a situation as it is.
The matter had nothing to do with the police. The issue was trash. That evening there was to be a vote by the Destin City Council to give Waste Management (WM) Corporation an exclusive five year contract. The City of Destin would act as bill collector and put trash payments on the tax bill. It exchange for this “improvement,” the move was expected to save money for citizens.
But the room full of Destin residents realized that not only was the ability to choose trash services being lost, but a person could now lose their home in a tax certificate sale for trash payments in arrears.
Citizen after citizen stood up and objected to this collusion between government and a private corporation. One businessman pointed out how he must now pay advance trash fees for the whole year. Others talked about how there weren’t enough exemptions for undeveloped properties. Some thought that condo owners would not as liable for trash fees as home owners because their associations took care of the trash bill. One asked if the City would be the point of contact to solve trash problems now (it will be).
There were advocates. Councilmember Larry Hines said thousands are not paying their garbage bills now, or are freeloading off of others. It was the “efficient” thing to do. The audience asked, quite rightfully, why should the City Council collect fees for a private corporation?
“What is clear is we’ve done a bad job communicating about this issue,” Councilmember Jim Bagby said, but he threw his support for the contract anyway. It would save money, and besides, the matter had been under consideration for more than a year.
Council members Larry Williges and Dewey Destin objected. To their credit, both thought it wasn’t the role of government to determine peoples trash handlers for them. Councilmember Destin suggested that there would be no way to renegotiate service terms once the contract was signed. Councilman Williges showed that the proposed government intervention would only save about a dollar and change per household per month.
As the swapping of views and explanations between Council Members continued, it was far from clear that the Council itself agreed on what the details of the proposed ordinance were.
Just as in our USA at large, when the time came to vote, the voices for small government did not win.
Instead of free market competition, trash collection in Destin is now mandated and centrally controlled by the government.
If service is poor, you will have to call a government bureaucrat instead of the trash man.
Waste Management gained a virtual monopoly with the help of government.
Concerned citizens advocating the free market were voted down by government.
The government created a system of special privileges based on whether a person is a homeowner, a condo owner, a senior citizen, or an owner of undeveloped property.
The government became the bill collector for a private corporation.
At a stroke government made citizens liable for unpaid taxes instead of unpaid trash bills.
A year’s worth of bureaucratic inertia worked against reconsidering the measure.
And, in the end, the Council was not even in complete agreement among themselves as to the ordinances’ details.
It is for reasons like these that I think it is not the purpose of government to own businesses, or to grant favors, but to protect individual rights.
I am also sure in the next five years Waste Management will seek a rate increase and get it.
The savings will be ephemeral, the loss of choice and economic opportunity will be real, and this government intervention will only lead to more intervention. Just watch.
It is the dysfunctional America we live in today.