Columbia City Council passes measure to avoid privatization of water, sewer system

Columbia City Council unanimously passed a measure Tuesday night to allow City Manager Teresa Wilson to receive proposals to make the city’s system efficient without turning over control to a private company.

City Council discusses water and sewer ordinance (photo by Kelly Petty).

City Council discusses the water and sewer measure during Tuesday’s meeting. (photo by Kelly Petty)

Council convened within the past week and brought back a resolution that would keep privatization of the water and sewer system off the table as city officials try to repair public utilities.

“Often times we want it both ways,” said Mayor Steve Benjamin. “We have to seek efficiencies, but at the same time we have to invest in our system. If, in fact, we’re going to improve infrastructure, we have to invest.”

A resolution originally was drafted by Councilwoman Leona Plaugh but was rejected by some council members over concerns it would limit the city’s ability to find cost-saving solutions to improve water and sewer services.

The new directive eliminates the need for city staff to review responses from private firms that desire to sell, lease, give up control or seek public-private financing and debt refinancing of the system.

Council instead directed Wilson to look at proposals that focus on advanced technology and techniques, new equipment and supplies as well as management and improvements that would tighten up the water and sewer system to meet Environmental Protection Agency standards. Any of these solutions could be established through a private-public partnership.

“Our plan is to move forward and make [water and sewer system] one of the best in this region,” Councilman Sam Davis said. “As we go through this process, we are committed that at the end of the day we do right by the people that pay the bills.”

Council chambers was packed with residents demanding council members pass the measure and forgo any thought of privatizing the system. Some still expressed concerns over what considerations city officials might apply to responses to the city’s bid request.

“This is Columbia’s most valuable resource,” said resident Jim Reid. “We must treat it this way.”

Reid asked council to revoke the bid request, rely on the knowledge of staff, look for cost solutions internally and stop moving funds from water and sewer to other parts of the budget. His remarks garnered applause.

“This has what has gotten us into this mess, so we have got to stop this immediately,” Reid said.

Categories: Richland County