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Council discusses ‘privatization’ of water services

By Staff | Sep 16, 2010

Cape Coral City Council may look at turning its water services operations over to a private company to run.
Councilmember Pete Brandt brought the idea of “privatizing” the city’s water system to council during a workshop session Wednesday.
Brandt is looking at a company called “United Water,” and has been charged by council to investigate the company further.
The possibility of the city contracting water operations out had its immediate detractors, with one union representative calling the move a blatant effort to “break” the union away from the negotiating table.
Pete Lericos, speaking on behalf of General Employees Union Local 2301, said privatization always “rears its head” during union negotiations, as an effort to “back the unions into a corner”.
Unlike years past, Lericos, a 21-year city employee, thinks this recent talk of privatization is “serious.” And he said the move would not work for the negotiating process.
“It’s a negotiating tactic, and this time I think they’re serious,” Lericos said. “I think they are trying to break the union.”
Brandt said Wednesday that privatization is merely being looked at, as are other options by council to deal with city water rates.
“To say this whole thing is about privatization is a misnomer … we need to get everything out look at it and talk about it,” Brandt said.
Councilmember Marty McClain said United Water has come under fire lately, in Georgia and Indiana, where municipalities have looked to terminate their contracts over 20 percent rate increases across the board.
Urging caution when it comes to privatization, McClain said that a private company might be able to provide some short- term relief, but he feared long-term headaches.
“We need to make sure that councils beyond us aren’t trying to fix something we want to pull the trigger on,” he said.
Fifty or so of the 240 utility employees turned out to hear the discussion Wednesday.
There was little evidence presented to support privatization as a viable option, but council will continue to look at United Water, and other private utility companies, the board agreed.
Councilmember Chris Chulakes-Leetz said he would not support privatization as he pleaded with the employees in attendance to find ways to cut costs and save money.
“The last thing I want to look at is privatizing our water,” he said.
Mayor John Sullivan took a similar view.
“In some cases public-private partnerships have worked, in others they’ve failed,” he said.