Fresno City Council moves towards private garbage service

FRESNO, Calif.

The City Council voted Thursday night to move ahead with a controversial plan to sell off the commercial portion of its garbage collection service. The vote was to move one step closer to selling off the city's waste collection service that collects garbage from businesses.

A lot of folks, especially garbage men, are fighting the proposal.

Those who collect trash for the city are the most upset about the proposal to turn their jobs over to two private companies.

Joe Hill: "Something stinks; and we're garbage men, we know stink," said garbage collector Joe Hill.

City leaders like the deal because companies will pay franchise fees to the city -- money the city can use for things other than garbage collection.

"What we really, ultimately have is a city service moving to the private sector where they continue to pay a franchise fee to the city to support police and fire services," said City Council President Larry Westerlund.

The two trash companies will pay $2.5-milion to the city. That's just 1 per cent of the city's general fund, but money the Mayor says the city needs. "Two and a half million dollars is two fire companies for a year, it's every penny of what we spend in every neighborhood park in Fresno, it's 30 police officers."

The move leaves the 125 city employees who collect the trash in limbo. The private companies have said they will hire about 85 of them -- but, at lower wages and benefits and they only have to keep them for six months.

The decision to privatize was not unanimous.

"I don't think it's worth it. We have a department that does an excellent job, rate payers are treated fairly and they get good service," said City Council Member Clint Olivier.

"I have not received anything to date to say that we need to dismantle them because of anything except for we need the money. To me that's not a good decision, not the right decision to do that," said City Council Member Blong Xiong.

Council Member Cynthia Sterling also opposed the move, but four other council members prevailed, and voted to privatize, despite the sometimes, impassioned pleas.

"I don't want my Dad to lose his job. I don't want those families to lose their jobs. That's just not so right," said son of city worker Adam Madrigal.

Thursday night's vote was to declare the city's intention to privatize garbage collection from nearly 8,000 businesses, not home garbage pickup.

A public hearing and final vote will be held January 6th and there will be two new members on the city council, who could tip the vote the other way.

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