Mar 05, 2002

New Orleans Voters to Decide on Proposed Privatization of SWB Board

The people of New Orleans voted Saturday to have the final say on the proposed privatization of the Sewerage and Water Board.

New Orleans voters gave overwhelming support to amend the city charter to give them the right to vote on whether to turn SWB operations over to a private operator.

Three companies have submitted proposals to take over the maintenance and operation of the SWB. All three proposals are under consideration, officials said.

USFilter has managed the water treatment plant on Florida Avenue in New Orleans for the last 10 years.

"We have experience in over 600 communities across the U.S. managing water and wastewater infrastructures," USFilter official Ron Davis said.

United Water claims to be the most qualified candidate for the job. Company officials said that they have the most to offer.

"(We offer a) stable, firm, fixed bid for the next 20 years that gives (the people of New Orleans) some comfort," United Water official Troy Henry said. "(We) won't have to have rate increases due to operations and maintenance concerns and needs."

The Managed Competition Employee Committee, made up of workers from the SWB, said that they are not responsible to any foreign companies.

"We do not have to pay dividends to stockholders any place else," Employee Committee official John Wilson said. "All of the savings that we reap from (the) system still comes to the system and comes to the citizens of New Orleans."

The company chosen by the SWB will be put to a vote of the people for final approval.

However, the Bureau of Governmental Research is critical of the decision and thinks that the public is being asked to decide on an issue that is too complicated.

"People are being asked to vote on a contract with hundreds of pages," BGR official Janet Howard said. "At that point the question is (whether) that contract (can) be amended."

The BGR said that it expects a vote on the company selected by the SWB sometime in October.