Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania Explores Privatizing Trash Collection

Published January 9, 2018

Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania city officials are considering bids for trash collection services currently provided by the government.

City Administrator Ted Wampole and Operations Department Director Butch Frati are reviewing bids submitted by trash collection companies in December 2017 for a three-year residential waste and recycling collection contract. Currently, the city’s Department of Public Works is responsible for municipal waste collection.

According to a 2017 independent audit of the city’s finances, the Wilkes-Barre Department of Public Works has run a $1 million deficit every year since 2010.

Cites Benefits to Customers

Mark Thornton, a senior fellow at the Mises Institute and a policy advisor for The Heartland Institute, which publishes Budget & Tax News, says returning municipal services to the private sector can improve both service quality and a city’s financial outlook.

“For the city that has experience with privatization and uses it comprehensively, it can save a great deal of money and also improve public services at the same time,” Thornton said.

Calls for More

Thornton says he recommends getting government out of the garbage business entirely.

“I would be an advocate of letting the marketplace take care of collecting garbage,” Thornton said. “We know it does that already. It does a good job and doesn’t need a city to come in and intervene by collecting taxes and fees and paying private firms. The marketplace itself can take care of that all on its own.”

Planning for Success

Elizabeth Stelle, director of policy analysis for the Commonwealth Foundation, says it’s important to design a privatization plan well.

“Generally, any discussion of privatizing a service that the government doesn’t need to do is a good thing,” Stelle said. “Simply privatizing trash collection services is not necessarily going to reduce their costs, but it has the potential to, if the contract is set up appropriately and if there are accountability measures put in place.”

Accountability helps ensure successful privatization, Stelle says.

“There are a lot of success stories out there, where there were contracts that were crafted to lower costs and ensure services,” Stelle said. “It’s really important to make sure there is accountability and make sure there are performance-based measures in the contract, if Wilkes-Barre decides to go that route.”