City moving forward with sewer privatization inquiry

Sean C. Morgan

Of The New Era

The Sweet Home City Council has authorized city staff to ask for proposals from private firms that may be interested in operating Sweet Home’s water and sewer treatment plants.

The city is exploring possible options for privatization based on the recommendation of a consultant who last year outlined possible ways to pay for inflow and infiltration repair and suggested exploring privatization.

City Public Works Director Adams told council members on Feb. 14 that he has put together a request for proposals to get further information from potential utility operators, he said. In response to concerns voiced in January by council members, staff added a paragraph at the end of the RFP telling potential service providers that the city would move forward with the process only if it were in the city’s best interests, Adams said. Four companies are interested in receiving the RFP, and the RFP will be advertised.

After advertising the RFP, the next step of the process would require companies to visit Sweet Home and tour the utilities, providing them an opportunity to ask questions. The city would make documents and reports available to them at that time.

“All we’re doing is gathering the information to look at it,” Mayor Craig Fentiman said. “Our focus has to be everyone in this room who are ratepayers.”

The question is whether there is a more efficient way to keep rates down, Fentiman said.

“How do we provide the best treatment facility to the city most efficiently? It might be less money, but it might not be worth it.”

The city committee reviewing proposals should include at least two city employees who have experience in Sweet Home’s plants, Councilor Jim Gourley said. The employees will be able to make sure the proposals offer the same services they supply for an “apples to apples” comparison.

“No matter who’s working in a plant, these problems have to be fixed,” former Mayor Dave Holley told the council. The objective will be to save money if possible.

If costs are not much different, it may not be something the city wants to do, Fentiman said.

If the cost savings are large, 30 percent for example, then the city will want to go with a private company, Holley said, but not if the savings are small.

The council voted 6-0, with Jim Bean absent, to authorize the RFP.