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City looks at privatizing public works department

It has long been a desire of some members of the Sunnyside City Council to look at privatizing the public works department.

Last week, the City of Sunnyside opened up the bid process to receive statements of qualifications from firms that specialize in providing privatization services for city operations, such as the public works department. As part of the bid requirement, the city will be holding a mandatory pre-submission meeting with firms on Wednesday, Oct. 27, with the final date for submitting statements of qualifications to be Wednesday, Nov. 17.

Sunnyside City Manager Bob Stockwell said the City Council has been looking at options for operating the city's public works department for some time. He said this process is a way of moving forward with the Council's wishes in exploring the matter further.

Stockwell said the bid process is actually a two-stage procedure. First, the city will be looking at the statement of qualifications from firms. Firms will then submit price estimates for providing privatization services. Stockwell said depending on what Council wants to do, he will then proceed with selecting the best firm from the bids submitted.

If Council does opt to move forward with privatization of the public works department, the selected firm would be in charge of all operations of the city's water and sewer services, said Stockwell. This would include providing water meter reading services. The selected firm would not be in charge of taking care of billing services for customers.

Stockwell is looking at bringing the privatization issue before Council in January, at which time he expects further discussion to take place and some sort of decision to be rendered on which way the governing body wants to proceed.

One part of the process that has changed from earlier discussions Stockwell and Council had is the public works department option to submit a bid of its own.

"I don't think that is realistic at this point," said Stockwell.

Stockwell said with the changes in staffing within the public works department, there is not enough manpower to adequately address the bid requirements.

The public works department recently lost director Ken Ott, who is now working for the Sunnyside Valley Irrigation District.

Stockwell said an option for the public works department is to look at what employees have been doing now and compare that with the bids that were submitted by the different firms.

"We have very good employees," praised Stockwell.

Stockwell said it is important to be able to examine what both sides have to offer and make the best cost comparison. Stockwell said there are certain services private firms can offer a city. Stockwell said by soliciting bids from different firms, Council will be able to make the proper decision on how to operate the public works department.

"I think it is the only way to get the question answered," said Stockwell. "It flushes out what the actual costs would be."

Council has discussed in the past other options for operating the public works department such as regionalization, but Stockwell said this is the avenue the city will be pursuing now.

"This one is going to keep the plate full for a while," said Stockwell. "We will see how it goes."

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