Fee for No Service

MUCH TO THE CHAGRIN of private haulers, Rock Hill, S.C., is considering charging businesses and apartment complexes that do not use the city's commercial trash service a fee. City officials say the proposed monthly fee is needed to help Rock Hill compete with the private haulers that have lured away commercial customers in recent years.

At press time, it was unclear when the proposal would go before the City Council.

Private waste industry officials have criticized the proposal, saying that the city is trying to gain a competitive advantage over private haulers. [See “Fair Competition,” p. 22] They also say they have not heard of such a fee being used elsewhere.

“If this is the only manner in which the city can afford to provide collection service, then perhaps it should reconsider whether it belongs in the waste service business,” says Mike Huff, manager of the Washington-based National Solid Wastes Management Association's Sunbelt Region.

According to the proposal, the city would send letters to the owners of apartment complexes and businesses requesting that they arrange a meeting with the Public Works Department. During the meeting, department officials would review the owners' commercial trash options.

If an apartment complex or business does not schedule the meeting within 30 days of receiving the letter, it would be charged a monthly fee. Apartment complexes would pay $36.51 per every 10 apartments for not using the city's commercial trash collection service, according to a copy of the letter. Other businesses would be charged $36.51 per month — the minimum rate that the city charges for commercial trash service, according to Jim Villano, city public works director.

If the owner presents a contract with a private hauler during the meeting, then the contract will be allowed to be completed. “We're not going to break anybody's contract,” Villano says. However, if the owner signs another agreement with a private hauler after the expiration of the contract, then the city would assess the same monthly fees described above, according to Villano.

Villano says Rock Hill's commercial collection service is at a disadvantage because the city's fee structure is published in its code of laws. This allows private haulers to look at the rates, adjust accordingly and “cherry pick” customers, he says.

Business closings and switches to private haulers have resulted in Rock Hill losing more than 300 commercial customers in the past six years, according to the city. Rock Hill currently has more than 1,000 commercial trash customers. The city's revenues from commercial service have declined about 5 percent in the past five years, according to the city.