Last night, the Washougal City Council put to rest the issue of whether it would pursue outsourcing the city’s public works responsibilities.
The topic was brought to the table by Mayor Sean Guard in July, and in August, with council approval, he signed a $45,335 professional services agreement with Science Applications International Corporation, of Seattle to explore the feasibility of a public-private partnership for operation, maintenance and management of the city’s water, wastewater and storm water utilities.
In the end, while some savings could have been incurred, it was not at the level the city was hoping to see. According to reports, cost reductions also would have been outweighed by the potential for other expenses, ranging from legal costs to the amount of money that would need to be spent just to find a private company to provide the services.
And while it has been determined through research and thoughtful consideration that this was not the route to take, economic issues still remain and public works cost savings still need to be found.
Since becoming mayors of their respective small towns, Guard and Camas Mayor Scott Higgins have gone out of their way to highlight the importance of city partnerships and the benefits that can come from working together. The most prominent example of this commitment can be found in the cities’ current work toward a consolidation of the Camas and Washougal fire departments, which could eventually create a regional fire authority.
While a complete merger of the two cities’ public works departments may not be in the cards, expansion of already existing partnerships and the creation of new ones could make a lot of sense. A great example of a very successful partnership is the Pacific Northwest interagency cooperative known as “Grounds, Equipment and Maintenance,” of which the cities of Camas and Washougal and the Camas School District are already members. Through the G.E.M. program, the partner jurisdictions share equipment and labor for services, roadway construction, roadway maintenance and facilities support.
These are the kinds of opportunities for cost savings to the city, and by extension to the taxpayers, that should continue to be rigorously explored and utilized by elected leaders and public works officials. The city’s bottom line depends on it.