Privatizing Divides City Council Delaney Asks Time for Additional Study

Article excerpt

Reacting to unease over a divisive issue, Jacksonville Mayor John Delaney has asked the City Council to delay action on his proposal to privatize downtown-area garbage collection for about six months.

The council was scheduled to take a final vote on the plan Tuesday. But disagreement between the mayor and council auditors over how much the move to hire Tampa-based Liberty Waste Inc. will save -- Delaney says $1.6 million a year, the auditors only $500,000 -- points up the need for an independent review, Delaney said.

The council members "are a little uncomfortable with the numbers. Let's get an outside person to look at the numbers," Delaney said.

Councilman Jim Overton, however, said he thought the decision to delay had as much to do with politics as with the need for better cost estimates.

The plan to privatize downtown garbage collection has emerged as the most controversial City Hall issue to face the council since last year's tree law debate -- as two mutually opposing committee votes last week made clear.

The council Finance Committee voted 5-1 to approve Delaney's plan, while Public Services and Utilities came down just the opposite, or 5-1 to deny it. At stake are the jobs of 82 city sanitation workers who now collect garbage in the core city, vs. the cost savings supporters cite and policy concerns that opponents have.

"I think that the mayor is prudent not to create a hostile atmosphere on the council," Overton said.

Rhetoric on the measure during council debates is also at a high pitch, with Councilwoman Pat Lockett-Felder -- the chief council voice against privatization -- stating flatly during debates that Delaney is lying about aspects of the plan.

For example, the mayor's promise that the city sanitation workers will get comparable City Hall jobs, at the same pay and benefits, doesn't wash with Lockett-Felder. Mayoral aide Sam Mousa said City Hall can do that and still save money because there are several vacant, budgeted positions in other departments where the sanitation employees could go. …