Friday, November 25, 2011

"Sorry, We Don't Have Money for Your Doggie Bag"

"However, we will fine you if you don't pick up after your dog."

That's the message out of a recent StarNews article.
Faced with looming budget cuts, it's possible the city of Wilmington's parks department could dump more, if not all, of its dog poop stations.

Some of the stations for disposing of dog waste have already been removed as a cost-saving measure.

Kevin McRill, of Wilmington, found that out the hard way on one of his usual runs along the Riverwalk with his lab. The station behind the Greater Wilmington Chamber of Commerce that he usually uses to dispose of his dog's droppings was gone.

"I think they've got better places to cut money than doggie bags," he said. "I think it makes no sense at all."

Firstly, there are no "looming budget cuts." This year's budget is 4.2% higher than last year's budget and that's been the general trend for many years (in fact, the general trend is higher than 4.2%, but we'll leave that for another day.)

Secondly, Mr. McRill is right. They have many better places to cut than doggie bags, especially if they're going to fine people for not picking up after their dogs.

[Nina Johnston, parks superintendent] said last year the cost of supplies and labor for maintaining the more than 40 stations in the city was about $30,000.

"And that's crazy," she added.

Yes, that is crazy.

Let's put aside the fact that we could probably save millions by privatizing parks maintenance. Let's put aside that we would probably thousands upon thousands by effectively auditing all of the Parks Department's purchases. Let's just assume this is a completely reasonable cost and things couldn't be done anymore cheaply.

Are these stations worth having?

Well, one way to tell is to compare it to other things we spend our money on:

This totally ignores the savings we'd find by having public employees pay half for their benefits.

So, the point is, yes, there are plenty of other places to cut than this, especially if you're going to fine people $250 for not picking up after their dogs.

This article does, however, bring up a subtler point about why it is always better to have the private sector provide something than the public sector.

If this were all private, people could protest with their dollars and either the company providing the service would get the message or potentially go out of business. In the public sector, it's much more difficult, especially when you have people like our current city council running the show.

Is it possible to privatize parks?

Yes, in fact, the majority of Tokyo's parks are private. There is a website devoted entirely to the concept. NJ Governor Chris Christie is currently pushing for public private partnerships in state parks. So, yes, like anything, it can be provided by the private sector.

The danger is that once the government gets into something it makes it more difficult for the private sector to compete, because anything run or owned by the government has an inherent advantage.

At the bare minimum, we need to look into privatizing our parks' maintenance.

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