Washougal approves public works review

Agreement could determine if public-private partnership is feasible

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A review of Washougal public works operations will move forward, after a vote by the City Council.

The 4-to-3 vote last night included “ayes” from Brent Boger, Paul Greenlee, Dave Shoemaker and Connie Jo Freeman. It authorized Mayor Sean Guard to sign a $45,335 professional services agreement with Science Applications International Corporation, of Seattle.

The agreement follows discussions regarding the potential outsourcing of public works responsibilities in Washougal. It could determine if a public-private partnership for operation, maintenance and management of the city’s water, wastewater and storm water utilities is feasible.

The analysis will also include identification of potential short- and long-term savings and efficiencies that might be realized by the city on its own.

Shoemaker thanked Guard for taking on the issue of efficiencies.

“Good decision-making requires knowledge,” Shoemaker said.

Plinski said it would be hard to vote ‘yes’ for the agreement when “citizens say ‘no.’”

“The people I talk to want to keep it local,” she said, referring to the maintenance and management of the city’s water, wastewater and storm water utilities.

Prior to the vote, Boger suggested taking a look at consolidating public works operations with Camas.

“Let’s not go there tonight,” he said.

Boger said he was willing to support the agreement with SAIC.

“It will be a heavy burden to convince me [privatizing operations and maintenance] will work,” he said.

During public comments, Washougal resident Harvey Olson expressed concerns about the potential privatization of the city’s water department.

“Do you really want the quality of the water supply of Washougal to be maintained by employees over whom the city has very little or no control? he asked.

Olson said privatization could possibly achieve short term financial gains, only to ultimately create long term losses.

“Historically, when the contracts are renegotiated after the date of expiration, the costs increase dramatically, eliminating any future savings,” he added.

Greg Emmert, a Camas public works employee who has lived in Washougal for 26 years, said privatization does not work.

“Think hard on this one,” he said to council, prior to the vote. “It’s these guys’ livelihood.”

There are 29 employees in the Washougal public works department. That includes five managers and 24 members of the American Federation of State and Municipal Employees Union Local 307-W. Many of them attended the council meeting.

Residents are in their second year of a five-year overall increase of 122 percent for water, sewer and storm water rates. The increases were required to pay for water and sewer infrastructure improvements, in order to meet state and federal regulations. They include the $15 million upgrade of the city’s wastewater treatment facility.

The review by SAIC is expected to be completed by Oct. 25.