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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on November 21, 2012 7:48 AM. The previous post in this blog was He'd never have to endure this in Oregon (or New Jersey). The next post in this blog is There's no money for West Hayden Island guilt trip. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Your Portland water bill may be coming from India soon

The City of Portland is so far in debt, and it continues to put its water system so far into hock with needless construction projects, that at some point the city will have to auction off public assets to prevent financial collapse. For an example, one can look to Detroit, Michigan, where the mayor is trying to privatize the city's water system over vigorous protest. So far, the opponents are winning:

There was little debate as council members rejected a proposal sought by Mayor Dave Bing’s administration for a $48-million, 4-year no-bid contract with EMA Inc. of Minneapolis, which proposed slashing 81% of the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department’s workforce and outsourcing hundreds of jobs....

The department has been under fire from suburban leaders who say it’s bloated with too many workers and inefficient, which they blame for a doubling of rates to customers over the last decade. The water department provides drinking water to 4.3 million customers in metro Detroit....

The council’s vote came just days after the water department’s board approved a $2 million contract it said was related to EMA’s larger contract to begin implementing some of the reforms outlined in the overhaul plan.

It wasn’t clear what would happen next. ...

We suspect that what will happen next is a long, long battle in which the forces of privatization will not rest until they succeed. And the same drama will be played out elsewhere. Got a problem with your water bill? You'll call an 800 number and speak to someone in Bangalore.

Comments (20)

Many decades ago, the railroad unions had to acknowledge featherbedding. I wonder if that's the thread running through the privation idea of water/sewer departments around the country.

Like teenagers acting out so that you can feel better about their leaving home, our city water and sewer department has been such a fountain of misbehavior and dysfunction that outsourcing and an Indian help desk begin to sound like blessed relief.

"We suspect that what will happen next is a long, long battle in which the forces of privatization will not rest until they succeed."

Well, maybe those forces of privitazation just might be able to provide water to cities with a bit more efficiently than the SamRand twins, or JefferSten, or CharLie, or Marion Barry, or Clint Eastwood.

"You'll call an 800 number and speak to someone in Bangalore."

Well, not to be racist (not that there is anything wrong with that) but I hate it when I call a 800 number, and the guy on the other end of the phone speaks better English than I do. I guess the Bangalorians also need to eat too, and they are just doing the jobs Americans won't do.

"speak to someone in Bangalore."

They gotta understand computers better than PWB.

If I thought privatization and outsourcing would lower costs or provide better water or service, I'd welcome them. But I'd be shocked if customers saw any benefits. Shareholders would do quite well, however.

I grew up in a city with privatized water, Baton Rouge, and it worked just fine. It's definitely something that should be considered - so long as the money was put toward paying down our city's debt and not just spent on more unnecessary projects.

Bloat at the water bureau?
The public used to have access to that floor a while back. Not any more. Only the "preferred" members get to go up there and see the sprawl and infill of engineers, consultants and analysts. Too bad some whistleblower won't spill some documents.
Or if we had a DA or AG who actually wanted to make a difference.
Forget about it Jack, it's Portlandtown.

Trust me, guys. You do NOT want privatization of water, or any other essential utility, for that matter. Out here, Texas is still dealing with the mess left when our idiot governor Rick Perry pushed through a big privatization effort for electrical utilities. It's bad enough that our main electrical utility, TXU, was bought by greedheads who paid too much at the height of the boom and now can't even come close to being profitable thanks to lots of hedge fund debt. We also have lots and lots of smaller companies that spend an obscene amount of advertising money to convince you that their rates are lower, even though they've jumped at least 25 percent since privatization. Meanwhile, if you actually need maintenance or emergency service, you have to deal with the actual maintenance company, Oncor, which outsourced just about everything. If your power goes out, the electrical provider you pay refers you to Oncor, which may spend days or weeks getting around to fixing your situation, and probably tearing the hell out of your trees and yards in the process.

The sad fact is that I sympathize with how bad PWU is getting, because that was the big argument for privatization out here. The problem is that the people yelling the loudest about fixing it via privatization get their money when it happens, they bail out, and there's no mechanism left to fix the mess afterwards. It's actually possible to enact real reform to Portland utilities via the polling booth, at least in theory. Once your utility is privatized, you're effectively paying an absentee landlord, and you just have to hope that the new owners are King Log and not King Stork.

You absolutely do not want privatization of a key shared resource.

What we need to do is clean house and send all the engineers and consultants to...

Pick your favorite naughty noun.

"If I thought privatization and outsourcing would lower costs or provide better water or service"

I don't know - I'd take PGE or NW Nat Gas over PWB any day. At least if they want to raise rates it takes a little more work (like making a case to the PUC) than Randy saying go.

Shareholders would do quite well, however.

Does that explain the silence about our critical water issues?
The web of power wants our water to be taken and then partake of the benefits as shareholders?

If that is the case, our elected officials who are going along with this, those who debt swamp in order to achieve this end and the others who are silent, in my opinion, they are betrayers of the public trust.

I don't know - I'd take PGE or NW Nat Gas over PWB any day. At least if they want to raise rates it takes a little more work (like making a case to the PUC) than Randy saying go.

Excellent riposte. No one with the reflexive anti-capitalist mindset will be able to acknowledge your point without their head exploding.

The sad thing is that any privatization push in Portland will only move if it is the necessary means to prop up their unsustainable spending patterns.

There are people who will hawk their household appliances on Craigslist before they scale back their cable bill. A lot of politicians fall into this category.

This dilemma will play out at all government levels because there is just not enough taxable revenue available to run all the government's machinery.

The Governor will try to move PERS reform, but since the public employee unions run Salem nothing substantial will occur. When the PERS liabilities are not erased by the expected economic rebound (and there is no one new we can tax) I expect Oregon's legislators will seriously debate privatizing the public beaches to make PERS solvent.

I guess the Bangalorians also need to eat too, and they are just doing the jobs Americans won't do.

I answer an 800 number for a privatized utility.

Oh, I also work in downtown Portland, Oregon for the privatized utility company.

Anyone remember a little company called ENRON?
That was successful.

"This dilemma will play out at all government levels because there is just not enough taxable revenue available to run all the government's machinery."
I disagree, there is plenty of money available if local governments stuck to what it is supposed to do and left all the docial engineering to the NGO's and churches.

PanchoPDX: The Governor will try to move PERS reform, but since the public employee unions run Salem nothing substantial will occur. When the PERS liabilities are not erased by the expected economic rebound (and there is no one new we can tax) I expect Oregon's legislators will seriously debate privatizing the public beaches to make PERS solvent.
Mike: It would be easier and wiser for PERS to be declared bankrupt.

Water is life, we cannot do without. Thus important that water belongs to the commons.

See excerpts and read on for solutions.

http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/reports/money-down-the-drain/

Money Down the Drain

Privateers may be creeping around your town hall. Your town is sitting on a gold mine: your water supply. Corporate executives know this and may be trying to weasel control of YOUR water from your city or town.

Corporations may try to exploit your struggling city. Because of the economic crisis, cities and towns across the nation are going broke, and large corporations are offering large sums of cash in exchange for control of our valuable drinking water and wastewater systems.

You might not know it‚ happening in your own community. Your mayor or city council may be cutting a deal behind your back. They could be trying to sell off control of your water without even telling you. We’ve seen it happen far too often.

You would have to pay for corporate expenses, incompetence and inefficiency. It‚ not surprising that you would pay more for private water. Despite their claims, corporations are not more efficient at providing water and sewer service, and they face several extra expenses. Private financing is more expensive, and corporate profits, dividends and income taxes can add 20 to 30 percent to operation and maintenance costs. The charges add up, and you would be stuck paying for them.

Sewage could flood your home. From Richmond, Calif., to Gary, Ind., to Fairbanks, Alaska, many communities have suffered at the hands of water corporations. Sewage has spilled into households and businesses, waterways are polluted and water quality has suffered.

Privatization has failed. There are better solutions to our country‚ water woes.

Anyone remember a little company called ENRON?
That was successful.

Anyone remember small-minded commissioner called Randy?
That hurts every time I open my water bill - Which 50% higher in 3 years forthe exact same water they falls from the sky.

Interesting that a private company thinks it can deliver the same service without four-fifths of the employees. (Or maybe it wouldn't deliver the same service?)


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