Let's not get too carried away with the celebration for our soon-to-be cheaper trash bills. We had been paying $98.50 per ton for trash. And now Broward residents will pay $61.75 per ton. That's because we've finally paid off the bonds for the two incinerators, which are so huge that we can't feed them enough trash to get them to capacity. We actually have to import other counties' trash, which then gives us the privilege of living with someone else's toxic ash.
I asked an expert on trash-handling what he thought the county would do if it was serious about saving its residents money: "Put out a public bid!" he exclaims. Yes, Waste Management currently enjoys a no-bid contract to manage the county's two incinerators.
It's part of what former Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jim Naugle says is "the cost of corruption, which is built into everything this county does."
Naugle is understandably bitter. More than 20 years ago, when Fort Lauderdale was contemplating an offer by a consortium of cities that aimed to build the incinerators, then share their costs, Naugle cast his City Commission vote against joining what would be called the "interlocal agreement." But three other votes in favor of joining put him in the minority.
Because the costs of maintaining the incinerators was proportional to the size of the city, Broward's biggest city stood to pay the most. "We could have saved $20 million by not joining with the county," says Naugle.
As he recalls, the pitch by the county was that national heavyweight Waste Management would compete with another firm, Wheelabrator, for the efficient management of the cities' waste. But shortly after the Broward cities signed on to the agreement, Waste Management took over Wheelabrator, which remains a division of that huge corporation to this day.
The trash expert, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told me that Miami-Dade and Hillsborough County both elected to put their own incinerator management out for bid, realizing significant savings over what Waste Management was offering.
But that scenario, unfortunately, imagines a county in which lobbyists don't bundle millions of dollars for policymakers in exchange for the right to help their clients screw over taxpayers.
"The county is in desperate need of reform," says Naugle, who says he's been disappointed by the county board's reluctance to follow the dictates of its own ethics committee.
And not to ruin the fun for Fort Lauderdale residents, who were getting screwed the most by the arrangement, but according to Naugle, an independent study about what the city would have paid without joining the interlocal agreement found that the rate was cheaper than the $61.75 per ton currently being advertised as a great deal. Translation: You're still paying for lobbyists.
For more background on the evils of Broward trash-hauling, here's a still-relevant article I wrote in 2008.