Tampa has been overcharged by Waste Management to the tune of $1.4 million over the last 7 years. Meanwhile, next door neighbor Polk County has overpaid Republic Services, Inc. as much as $1.46 million. Seems like big garbage is doing good business in Florida.
In the case of Tampa it was a commercial waste problem. WM had contracts to pick up 40% of the city’s commercial waste. However, when a business shut down and reopened in a new location, WM would continue to charge pick-up fees to the city for both locations. (In this case, Tampa admits it contributed to the accounting problem by providing an inaccurate initial list of businesses needing service, but WM just made it worse over the 7 years).
In Polk’s case, overcharges were for residential waste pickup. Republic Services was charging pick-up for empty lots as well as lots where building contractors had procured building permits but were not yet occupied. Now, in the midst of a paperwork nightmare, Polk County is attempting to mail reimbursement’s to all property owners who were overcharged since 2005.
Here’s the rub: Tampa has now chosen Republic Services to replace WM in a new contract. Why? Hadn’t Republic just pulled a similar number on the next door neighbor? Yet WM was able to offer the most competitive bid on the contract. No smaller businesses could compete.
It seems like these stories of poor accounting and accidental overcharges by both WM and Republic (formerly BFI, formerly etc…), as well as other smaller companies, aren’t new. Here’s one from Fr. Lauderdale in 1990. Here’s one from Philadelphia in 1995. Here’s one from Houston in 1996. Pleasant Grove, UT 1999. New York 2000. Houston 2006. San Jose 2007. San Carlos, CA 2008. Los Angeles 2012. Pittsburgh 2013. Estancia, NM 2013.
It’s a short list compared to what’s out there if you really look. But after so many instances you have to start to wonder – is this just due to bad accounting? Over and over again? Or is something else going on? In the realm of public utilities, private companies seem to have lots of room to take advantage of the monopoly we give them.