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Fort Worth To Hold Public Meeting About Privatizing Water Department

(credit: KTVT/KTXA) Joel Thomas
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FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) - The City of Forth Worth is holding a public meeting at city hall Tuesday night to get input about privatizing its water department (educational session at 6 p.m., public input at 7 p.m., Council Chambers, 2nd floor). But some early research may make the city’s decision about handing over its keys to the water department a foregone conclusion.

Fort Worth had hoped to find some big money savings when it appointed a task force to look into privatizing its water department. But, documents supplied to the task force suggest the city would save money by keeping control of water system.

The city’s charge to the task force focused on exploring the affects on two things with privatization: service and savings.

“I think it would be great if it would put jobs back in the community,” said Narvis Medlock, a Fort Worth water customer, when asked about privatizing the water department. “Also, if it would reduce bills I think that would be wonderful.”

But others, like Essie Wright who is unable to pay this month’s water bill, says a city-run water department better serves its customers.

“When you are in a situation like I am you get help from the city,” Wright said. “A lot of times you don’t get help from private companies.”

The task force set out to see if a private company could save the city money and still serve its customers.

They asked companies to look for ways they could streamline the city’s water operation to make a profit.

“One of those is strategic outsourcing which means just part of our operation,” said water department spokesperson Mary Gugliuzza. “The other one is the contract operation for the entire operation.”

But documents show the companies who would bid to take over water operations could not do it more cheaply than the city.

The first thing a private company would have to do is cut out fat from the operation. According to documents from presentations to the task force, one of the letters submitted for lease concession by Cintra/Aqualia said, “….no downsizing is anticipated as the number of personnel seems appropriate for this size facility.”

Another company, San Jose Water, declined to respond to the city’s request to be involved in exploring privatization saying, “….well-managed and efficient utilities seldom realize significant benefits from contract operations, without compromising service, reliability, safety and/or incurring additional costs.”

A study given to the task force shows privatizing could increase operating costs up to 16 percent.

The single proposal not costing more could only turn around a 1 percent profit and it would take several decades to accomplish that.

Mayor Betsy Price said giving up control of the entire water department seems very unlikely and was never the sole focus of the task force.

“Its not real feasible right now,” Mayor Price said. “The hope is there might be pieces that could be improved. And if nothing else your own staff often steps up with better ideas that they’re not implementing when they’ve got that competition out there.”

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