The potential outsourcing of public works responsibilities in Washougal has attracted some skepticism, regarding whether any potential cost savings would be worth it.
The city is looking at a private/public partnership for operation, maintenance and management of water, wastewater and storm water utilities and possibly facility upgrades of the wastewater treatment plant.
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.
City Administrator David Scott said an evaluation of a possible partnership would explore opportunities for efficiencies to mitigate the impact of the necessary rate increases.
Mayor Sean Guard asked the finance department to make sure the city is being as efficient as it can be in the utility departments.
“As I have noted in the past, I want to be sure we turn over and look under every rock to make sure we are being good stewards with the public’s money,” he said during a presentation at the City Council workshop last night. “Part of this evaluation has to be looking at how we deliver these services, the actual operation and maintenance of the system.”
Guard said the potential private/public partnership has nothing to do with the award-winning staff.
“This issue is only about the cost of operating the system,” he said. “Until we actually look at an apples-to-apples comparison of what services a private company might be able to provide and at what cost, we will not know if we are being as efficient as we can be.”
Councilman Paul Greenlee said he is skeptical of using a private operator for public works responsibilities.
“During a major snow event, city water and sewer staff can plow the streets,” he said. “If there are private operators, there will be snow removal contractors. There will be a loss of flexibility.”
Councilwoman Jennifer McDaniel also mentioned the flexibility of city staff during “times of crisis.”
Councilwoman Caryn Plinski said she was skeptical of a private/public partnership.
“We have some great workers here in Washougal,” she said. “I want to protect them.”
Councilman Brent Boger said he shared the skepticism.
“The savings [of a public private partnership] would have to be significant before disrupting the lives of city employees,” he said.
“The administration shares that sentiment,” Guard said. “It’s not easy.”
During public comments, Brett Scott, co-owner of Washougal Lumber, said city employees buy from that business.
“They are personal friends,” he said.
Timothy Kuchina works for a company that has outsourced jobs.
“Cheaper is not better,” he said. “City employees have community pride.”
He recalled filling sand bags at 1 a.m., to protect areas from flooding. Some city employees were not on the clock as they assisted in the effort, Kuchina said.
Additional discussions regarding a potential private/public partnership are expected during the council meeting Monday, Aug. 20, at 6 p.m., in the council chambers at City Hall, 1701 “C” St.