Washougal will mull public-private water, sewer

At first blush, councilors, others at meeting dislike idea

By Ray Legendre, Columbian staff writer

Published:

 

The city of Washougal plans to evaluate whether a public-private partnership could cut rising water and sewage rates and help pay for a proposed $15 million wastewater plant upgrade, the city's administration informed the city council Monday night.

The plan was met with skepticism from the five council members in attendance and overwhelming opposition from the 15 or so audience members who spoke during the council's workshop. The meeting was held at City Hall, 1701 C St.

The decision to analyze the benefits of a public-private partnership comes after two years of substantial rate increases and projections of increases the next three years, city staff said. The city's government is committed to finding the most efficient and effective means of service for residents, City Administrator Dave Scott said. He stressed that no decision will be made until around April 2013.

The city has not talked to any private vendor, city officials said.

There is no estimate yet on how a public-private partnership might affect the city financially, or how many city employees, if any, might be impacted, city officials said.

Six-month project

Work on the wastewater plant would likely last from June to December 2013, regardless of whether it involved city or private workers, Scott added.

Mayor Sean Guard called starting the evaluation "the hardest decision I've made since I've been mayor."

He assured the assembled crowd of around 60 residents that the decision would not be only about dollars and cents but would also consider the best interests of the community and its residents.

"I know it's a double standard to say, 'We've got great people but we're going to look at another way to offer services,'" Guard said.

Audience members who addressed the council feared Washougal would receive inferior service from a profit-driven company and that the loss of local employment would hurt the city's economy. They also asked who would respond should a crisis arise -- such as snow-covered roads or flooding.

"I think it would be a tragic thing to turn our water over to someone looking to make a profit," Washougal resident John Wagoner said, noting: "It's our water, it's our guys."

Ray Legendre: 360-735-4517; http://facebook.com/raylegend; http://twitter.com/col_smallcities; ray.legendre@columbian.com.