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Residents Speak Out Against Leasing Water

September 26, 1996|JOHN POPE

A flier distributed in the community by City Councilman Frank Fry Jr. drew dozens of residents to a council meeting Tuesday, many of whom denounced a proposal to privatize the city's water system.

Fry, who is running for mayor in November, said he "wanted to alert the people that they're about to lose the water works. We got out 10,000 fliers over two days."

For the past several months, the city staff has solicited proposals from private enterprises interested in leasing and operating the city's aging water system, and have narrowed the list to three companies.

The city's water system, built mostly in the 1950s, is about $10 million in debt and needs about $20 million in improvements, City Manager Bill Smith said. Privatization, he said, is being considered as an alternative to raising residents' rates by about 25% to pay for the repairs.

Earlier this month, the council directed its staff to continue a final round of bidding and present a detailed lease plan for consideration, most likely in October.

Although the issue was not on the council's agenda Tuesday, about 50 residents attended the meeting and about 15 spoke against leasing the water system.

Based on preliminary proposals, a water system lease is expected to freeze residents' rates for at least three years, provide a lump sum of about $20 million to pay of the system's debts and establish a reserve fund, and give the city about $1 million in revenue for the next 15 years, Smith said.

As part of any contract, the city's 30 water employees would be hired by the private company, which would also repair the system.

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