A while ago, I discussed how my Public Administration textbooks all came to life when I visited the DMV, the county’s city hall, and the social security office. After showing how my wildest bureaucracy dreams all came true, I promised to get back to the theoretical field of New Public Management and link it to what I’ve been seeing here. New Public Management (NPM) is a set of theories that basically promotes the running of government as a private business. Instead of taking a huge workload and do everything in all lives, government should enable people or organizations to perform public tasks (privatization, contracting third parties and other forms of private organizations performing tasks that were previously done by government). This way, a small government can achieve just the same as a larger government, but in a more efficient way. Before y’all (I went to Kentucky this weekend, so there’s a little y’all left in me) start calling your local government about this wonderful idea, let me show you how this works in the magical city of Rock Hill, where I live.
Rock Hill is part of Saint Louis County, a municipality with a population of almost 5,000, in the midst of 89 other municipalities that form Saint Louis County (with a total population of just over 1 million). If you didn’t know Rock Hill was an independent city, you’d miss it, because all municipalities blur into one another, but sure enough, every municipality has its own taxes and services (income for Rock Hill according to the 2012 budget was 41% sales tax, 24% utility tax, and 10% property tax). Because the density of cities in the county, they work together on a lot of issues, but there’s always the idea that government has to provide certain services. That’s why Rock Hill has it’s own police department (9 people) and its own fire department (10 people) for its 5,000 person population, obviously the two biggest expenses in the budget.
It’s a shame that police and fire departments cost money, especially because expenses made by government are funded by taxes (at least for 75%). Higher expenses will therefore ultimately mean higher taxes. How to prevent raising those taxes? It’s pretty simple: transfer tasks from government to private companies. Rock Hill has decided not to collect trash. Instead, they put up a bid for companies to compete for trash collection. As for now, the honorable company Progressive is collecting all my recycled newspapers, and sharing those profits with the city. Our household, one of approximately 2,100 in the municipality, pays around $300 annually to have them come around. That’s 630,000 that doesn’t show up in the budget, or 115% of the Public Works expenses (and about 19% of the entire city budget). That’s pretty neat. Now, I couldn’t find what the difference turned out to be between Rock Hill collecting trash and this contract, and maybe we’re far better of paying a company that can recycle on a huge scale, but it’s pretty interesting to see how the balance of government expenses can look entirely different, whereas we as citizens end up in not that different of a position than where we started in the first place.