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Public works director optimistic on future of water system operations

Even though he would like to have a chance to see what kind of cost savings or changes he can make within the water department for the City of Sunnyside, Public Works Director Jim Bridges remains optimistic about the future of services for local residents.

The Sunnyside City Council is expected to make some sort of decision on whether or not to privatize the city's water services at its Monday, Feb. 28, meeting. This will follow a meeting on Feb. 22, when the public will have the opportunity to provide brief comments on their thoughts concerning privatization. The city is looking at possibly contracting out with Veolia, a national firm that specializes in water system operations, to oversee the city's water system.

Bridges said during the Feb. 28 meeting, Sunnyside City Manager Bob Stockwell will present the city's proposal for continuing to operate the water system. That proposal will be compared with what is presented by Veolia to operate the same system.

"We compared apples to apples," said Bridges of the two economic proposals that will be before Council on Feb. 28. "It is a simple matter of economics."

Bridges said Council will also be presented with a report outlining contract negotiations with water department employees.

The contract proposals will include the cost of services the city already provides for local residents, comparing the economic feasibility of both parties, said Bridges.

Bridges said he wants to see the Council go with whatever will provide residents with the best value for the dollar that is being spent. He said that is the philosophy he tries to take with whatever proposal he submits for approval. Bridges, who is relatively new to the public works director position, did admit, though, that he would like an opportunity to be able to see if he can make the water department more efficient from both a production and an economic standpoint.

Bridges said he hopes what is going on with the privatization issue serves as an educational opportunity for both Council members and the community. He said there is a lot of upgrading and continuing maintenance that has to be done within the city's water system.

"Even if we don't privatize, we should be doing the same things," said Bridges in regards to keeping the maintenance on the city's water system up to par, just as Veolia will be proposing to do.

The water department currently has 11 employees. If the city opts to privatize the operation of the water system, eight employees will remain with Veolia. The catch, said Bridges, is that the city will retain the services of any employees who are looking to retire within the next 18 months. Those employees will then have their services leased out by the city back to Veolia. Of the three positions that will not be filled if privatization takes place, one is held by a city employee who is scheduled to retire soon. Another position would be rolled over into the street department and another employee would be moved to the parks and recreation department.

Bridges will continue to oversee the city's street department and the management of the contract with Veolia, if privatization of the water services does occur.

Bridges does promise that he will answer honestly and directly any question posed of him by Council at the Feb. 22 and 28 meetings. Bridges said he remains optimistic the residents and businesses of the community will continue to receive stellar water and wastewater services from the city.

"Absolutely," said Bridges. "I would never sign a blank contract giving one party an advantage over another party."

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