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City wants some of the business action

With jobs to be saved, the city wants its departments to raise revenues any way it can. But, especially in this economy, isn't the city going too far when it proposes opening its own store in competition with existing recyclers and second-hand stores?
Seattle City Hall: in need of change inside?

Seattle City Hall: in need of change inside? Wikipedia

Everyone should now be aware that the downturn in the economy has affected almost every individual's life. Bill Gates has lost billions, not that he is likely sleepless at night like the thousands who have lost their jobs.

Businesses large and small have laid off workers at all levels, euphemistically calling it downsizing. More forthright companies call it laying off. They don't like the word "fired," they save that word for getting rid of people they wish they hadn't hired in the first place.

Not surprisingly government has been caught in the great recession. When the economic bubble was at its peak, governments hired freely and were generous in the contracts they signed with the unions who deal with public employees. Pay was more than good, and benefits were equally generous if not excessive in a few of the contracts.

Now that the public doesn't have the money to buy stuff, the sales tax revenue government expected simply isn't there. Washington state, counties, and cities are all in serious financial trouble with obligations they can't meet without reducing spending, and that means reducing staff along with prioritizing spending on what is absolutely essential.

In Seattle, first in the Nickels administration and now in Mayor Mike McGinn's administration, there is an official policy for city departments to find or invent ways to create revenue for the city. The incentive for city workers to create revenue is simple. They are clearly aware that their jobs are at stake if there isn't enough revenue to issue their pay checks.

Increasing revenue could take many forms: raising taxes where possible, fees for anything that can have a fee attached, and, of course, raising any power and utility rate they can. While Seattle City Light is owned by the people and was originally conceived to deliver power "at cost," the potential shift to profit would be a big step.

Now our city administrators seem to visualize City Light with dollar signs in their eyes, a ready-made cash cow where rate increases are easily rationalized as incentive for using less power and being greener.

City Hall's emphasis on revenue encourages its departments to find ways to make money, to think entrepreneurially about creating little enterprises where every they can.

Seattle Public Utilities hopes to relocate a new recycling center on the old site. In their released plan, they casually mention that they will later open a reuse store where the public can buy back items that others have discarded.

From the public point of view, the idea of fees for services certainly isn't a radical idea and is well ingrained into our way of life. We understand we pay for telephone, cable, internet, and, of course, each time our garbage can is emptied.

When we turn on the shower, flush the toilet, or plug in a toaster, we expect to pay utility bills, which are managed by government. But should we pay a separate fee besides our taxes at a turnstile to use our parks, have our roads maintained, or public buildings cared for?

Still, many citizens have long grumbled at the city's policy of charging a fee to challenge a city land-use policy. The city now also charges a fee to park in front of your own home if you live near the new light-rail line. The fire department once inspected buildings to discover any possible fire hazards that might endanger the public. Fire personnel still do it, but now they charge a fee. Among the many frustrations in life we pay more in property tax if our residence has a beautiful view; but if the view is blocked by a new building, government says "tough."

Entrepreneurialism sounds very American, almost patriotic. It clearly supports a theme that seems part of American genetic makeup: going into business and making money.

When government goes into business, however, there is the distinct possibility that it may start competing with private enterprise, the other mainstay of American economy. Traditionally this has been somewhat of a no-no, but in today's bureaucratic culture, where keeping your government job motivates new thinking, competition with private companies is now becoming a very attractive idea.


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Comments:

Posted Tue, Jun 1, 4:04 a.m. Inappropriate

My co-researcher in the productive launch of X51A Waverider thinks the same way too. They are arguing together with my other researcher that's why I am standing in the middle. Economic crisis is really unexpected and should be properly addressed and not taken for granted instead. I think, the answer to this starts to us. Let us be united in facing economic problems and left behind our personal agenda for the betterment of the whole.

ConorK

Posted Tue, Jun 1, 8:27 a.m. Inappropriate

Gosh, but it's so simple. They are working for us. When times get tough, they have to just downsize their staff and stop buying new stuff. They shouldn't compete with us starving citizens. They are citizens too, and should act like citizens. Who do these service people think they're working for? How can they ask us to cut back more or to pay them rent? Work with what they've got. Fix it. Keep it going. Get it straight.

Posted Tue, Jun 1, 10:19 a.m. Inappropriate

I lot of words to get here:
"A private reuse store often pays for some of the materials they sell. There is an entire shadow economy of those who pick up and resell any useful item. It rids our city of junk and pays a meager wage to those who need it. To make matters even more frustrating, the city doesn't allow anyone, including reuse and second-hand stores, to pick over any items left at transfer stations. There is lots of good stuff that, with minor repair, could be made useful again. It's well understood that the attendants at transfer stations divert some of the choicer items into their trucks after work. Yet, the city doesn't let the private reuse workers even look at what is being discarded."

Picking rights. My issue is giving rights. All too often I wind up putting reusable building materials in the trash because the pickers are fearful of having it around taking up space for decades. If the City has land not otherwise in productive use why not make use of it for stuff the pickers are now refusing, and I am not talking junk here.

afreeman

Posted Tue, Jun 1, 9:10 p.m. Inappropriate

A solution is to never give the city anything of value. Find a private taker of aluminum, scrap metal, etc. and only give the city the waste glass, paper, garbage, grass clippings, etc. For the valuable stuff, try barter, exchange, and sale to private haulers and collectors.

animalal

Posted Fri, Jun 4, 1:09 a.m. Inappropriate

Rather than go into a competitive business, why doesn't the city put out a competitive bid allowing the winning contractor to pick over the droppings at the transfer center. The city gets paid whether the materials get recycled, repaired, resold, or not.
The bonus is they don't have to invest much, hire new city employee, negotiate with their unions, feather their nests or live with them until retirement and beyond...
If the city is really looking for more available money, they should first pare off a sizable percentage of its employees; keeping only those with a record of actually working and serving the public with integrity and cheer. Take a page from the courageous Reagan years.

czken

Posted Wed, Jun 9, 9:30 p.m. Inappropriate

I think we are losing sight of the point here-to divert reusable material from the waster stream and landfill. I'd much rather have public employees recovering and reselling dumped material than just processing it for hauling to eastside landfills.We all pay the wages of waste in our community.New ideas about recovery and reuse shouldn't get tied up in market protections for the far too few enterprises engaged in reselling the reusable stuff in our world. Good idea Seattle. What else you got?

Artifacts

Posted Tue, Jun 29, 6:51 a.m. Inappropriate

Great piece Kent.

Though there is certainly a place for large organizations in this world they carry with them a societal cost - regardless of whether they are partisan right and quasi-private or partisan left and public. A large Boeing Corporation is a necessity, Starbucks most certainly is not.

Big government is a problem in today's economy, but not so much so as the big corporation - you can't make 10% money in a 2.5% economy when you already own 120% of the whole game. That is, unless you cheat - as the Stock Market since the Reagan era clearly shows.

As to recycling, perhaps it is time to 'recycle' the majority of our supervisory public servants back into the private sector? An economic downturn is supposed to be out weeding out the weak and letting them find more productive endeavors.

But what has happened in 'Big' America is exactly the opposite, just another excuse for the corporations to take over the market share of the independent in a cycle that is accelerating in its long term destructive effect.

The sad truth is that sometimes people, like things, have no better use and it is time to ship them off to the landfill.

But that all depends on the individual's merits, which is the point, isn't it?

-Douglas Tooley
http://motleytools.com/blog

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