It is important that Downriver alter its image of inefficient government. The best ways to do this would be to privatize as many public services as possible. Privatization of services Downriver has already led to increased efficiency and lower tax burdens.

Evidence suggests that Downriver residents already identify one existing service that has been privatized in the area – garbage collection – with efficiency.

Two public opinion polls conducted by CRW Associates, Inc. of Detroit by phone for the DCC in 1984 found that 87 percent of residents said garbage collection was being provided at a "very high or high level." [38]

Garbage collection was incorrectly identified by DeVries & Associates, Inc., of Wrightsville Beach, N.C., as a government service when in fact, sixteen of the 17 Downriver communities have privatized garbage collection.

Ninety percent of residents surveyed in the polls said garbage collection was "no problem at all," while 10 percent described it as a "major or minor problem." [39]

Further steps to privatize Downriver would show that the area was in the forefront of providing services and not stuck in quagmire of inefficiency.

A first step should be the establishment of privatization commissions in all 17 communities to review the prospects for transferring services from the public to private sectors. Each commission should include a mix of residents, business and community leaders and elected officials, and should meet at least once publicly for public input.

Each privatization commission should examine why services performed by the private sector elsewhere are provided by the public sector in their own community.

For example, a Trenton privatization commission should review the historical circumstances that have left the city the only one Downriver providing all facets of garbage collection. A Wyandotte privatization commission should examine why the city provides public cable TV service when it is provided by private firms in other communities. Likewise, privatization commissions in River-view and Southgate should review why those communities operate municipal golf courses that compete with private courses in the area.

Following review, each privatization commission should report its findings. In the meantime, consideration should be given to to privatizing the following public services:

Fire Protection.

Allen Park, Lincoln Park Melvindale, River Rouge,,. Southgate, Taylor, Trenton and Wyandotte should replace their full-time fire departments with part-time forces as an interim step.

Part-time fire departments already exist in nine Downriver communities – Brownstown Township, Flat Rock, Gibraltar, Grosse Ile Riverview Rockwood Romulus and Woodhaven. There has been no decline in fire protection in those communities, and residents have not expressed displeasure with the level of service.

Furthermore, consideration should be given to privatizing fire protection Downriver.

Nationally, fire service privatization emerged directly through private-sector fire departments, and indirectly with the shifting emphasis from fire suppression to fire prevention. Standards imposed by private insurance companies accelerated a trend already underway to use fire-detection systems, and sprinkler and other suppression devices. [40]

Reduced manpower demand should have reduced public sector fire protection budgets. However, public officials have sometimes interfered with this natural economic process through patronage and other political maneuvers.

Scottsdale, Arizona, remains the best example of fire service privatization. Since 1948, Scottsdale has been served by Rural-Metro, an employee-owned private company. The average annual per-capita firefighting costs for cities between 50,000 and 100,000 in population amounts to $50, contrasted with only $25.68 in Scottsdale, according to National Fire Protection Association statistics. [41]

The Institute for Local Self Government, in a separate study, compared the dollar loss from fires, response times, and firefighter salary ranges for Scottsdale and the nearby cities of Glendale, Mesa and Tempe, Az.; all of which have public fire departments and similar residential patterns. Scottsdale had the fastest fire-response times and the lowest dollar loss per capita from fires – $5.74 compared to $7.60 on average for the other three communities, which, however, paid higher salaries, on average $1,500 more to starting firefighters. [42]

Today, Rural-Metro has expanded into a $25 million private firm, with 400 vehicles, 1,600 employees and contracts with 16 communities in five states providing ambulance, code enforcement and standard fire protection services.

One anti-market criticism is that while part-time or private fire protection may work in small areas, larger communities make the concept impractical. But three of the four largest Downriver communities, size-wise – Romulus Brownstown Township and Grosse Ile – are served by part-time departments.

Conversely, five of the eight smallest Downriver communities – Ecorse, River Rouge, Melvindale, Wyandotte and Lincoln Park – are served by part-time departments, although Ecorse is in transition to a part-time department under Schimmel's direction.

Melvindale, Lincoln Park, Ecorse and River Rouge have the highest property tax millages Downriver, in that order. Taylor, another community with a full-time force ranked fifth in 1987, while Wyandotte had the seventh highest millage rate.

Finally, it is worth noting that Troy, a community of more than 80,000 experiencing record economic growth, is served by a part-time fire department.

Garbage Collection.

Trenton should privatize garbage collection. Trenton is the only community Downriver that provides garbage collection for its residents. Private firms collect refuse in every other Downriver community. A private firm even collects garbage in Wyandotte, otherwise noteworthy for its unusually large public sector.

A frequent criticism of private garbage collection is that there exists a shortage of private firms to bid for the service. However, an examination of garbage collection Downriver reveals that no less than nine private firms collect refuse in the area. They are: Abcor (Brownstown Township); Area Disposal (River Rouge, Riverview, Rockwood, Southgate, Woodhaven and Wyandotte); Browning Ferris Industries (Brownstown Township and Gibraltar); Canejo (Flat Rock); Canton Recycling (Romulus); Laidlaw (Lincoln Park); Midwest Residential (Taylor); Painter & Ruthenberg (Allen Park); and Waste Management (Melvindale). [43]

Garbage collection should be more competitive. Private firms awarded monopoly contracts have less incentive to be accountable than those which must compete on the open market for a consumer's business.

Louis Schimmel was able to save Ecorse $120,000 merely by telling the contractor he was considering rebidding the garbage collection contract. It is important that contracts are carefully crafted and monitored on a regular basis by officials.

Another method of ensuring accountability, is to permit competition. It is one thing to privatize garbage collection; it is quite another to establish a free market system. It is instructive to note that a free market system already exists in north Oakland County, where Pontiac is the only city providing garbage collection. Other communities are served by either a single firm with a contract or competing private firms.

In fact, 20 of 30 north Oakland County communities have such a system. These include high-growth communities like Auburn Hills, Rochester Hills and Waterford Township. "You have to be competitive and remain competitive," said former Waterford Supervisor Robert Hoffman, owner of Great American Disposal. "If service is bad in the private sector, the consumer can go elsewhere." Other local officials echo Hoffman's sentiments. [44]

Wyandotte should shed its Public Cable TV Operation. Wyandotte is one, if not the only, community in Michigan that provides cable TV service. The trend nationwide, even statewide, is toward competition, not monopoly. Wyandotte should not be providing cable TV service.

Finally, it should be noted that this study is not meant to be all-inclusive in the area of Downriver privatization. However, it is worth emphasizing again that privatization is one of the best ways Downriver to reduce high property tax rates, and further efforts should be undertaken to explore the concept.