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Council delays privatization vote

More public workshops planned

The issue of privatizing the City of Sunnyside's water and wastewater services will live to fight another day.

The Sunnyside City Council opted to delay its vote until at least March 28, following Monday night's meeting on whether to enter into a private contract with Veolia Water to operate the city's water and wastewater services.

The issue, though, was not without some interesting discussion.

Councilman Bruce Ricks had made the initial motion to enter into a contract to privatize the operation of the city's water and wastewater services for a 10-year period with Veolia Water. Ricks' motion was seconded by Councilman Paul Garcia. While Garcia has voiced support of the privatization issue in the past, he wasn't in favor of approving the measure Monday night.

Garcia pressed fellow Council members to hold additional meetings to further educate the public on the privatization issue.

"If we do that, I think it would be a lot better for the community," said Garcia.

Garcia said he is concerned with the fact that he is unable to answer a couple of questions posed to him on the issue of privatization.

Garcia said he wants to educate the public on the need for privatization and how reducing the size of city government can be a "good thing" in the end.

Councilman Don Vlieger, a long-time proponent of privatization, proved to be an ally for Garcia, as he, too, wants to hold more community meetings to better educate the public.

Councilwoman Bengie Aguilar also liked the idea of educating the public further. She felt holding community forums is a good way of having the public buy into the idea of privatization.

Garcia added that if none of the public comes to any of the workshops, then he knows that the community is leaving the decision up to the Council to make.

Aguilar did express some concerns about a petition that was presented to Council last week containing 380 signatures against the proposal. Aguilar said she had heard from one community member that another petition the person signed with about 150 signatures was taken by someone allegedly representing the city.

"We need to hear from the community (that) it is a good decision," said Aguilar.

Ricks, though, was quick to point out the broad scope of the petition, which says "we, the undersigned Citizens of Sunnyside, do NOT want our parks, wastewater, water, or any other public services contracted out to a "for-profit" or any other private company and demand that our public works and parks staff continue providing the same quality services the citizens of Sunnyside have depended on for many years."

Ricks said the petition was circulated before any information was given out. Ricks said he felt people shouldn't have signed the petition before coming to last week's workshop.

"The workshop was very successful," said Ricks.

Ricks did have a problem with the news coverage that has been given on the subject, making reference to a headline in the Wednesday, Feb. 23, edition of the Daily Sun News. Ricks said he had problems with the way the headline concentrated on how the residents were not pleased with the privatization matter at the workshop. He said nowhere except for a middle portion of the story did the article highlight the $289,000 annual savings the city would have with privatization.

Ricks also made specific reference to comments left out of the article, in particular those of Pete Sartin, who voiced his pleasure with the Council for holding an open meeting for the community. At the Feb. 22 meeting, Sartin said he would have liked to have seen such a workshop take place with the landscaping ordinance. Sartin also offered comment on how he would change the wording enabling the city to terminate its contract with Veolia Water.

Ricks said the biggest opposition he had heard concerning privatization deals with the city sending its money to France.

Ricks said the issue of privatization is nothing new to the city and it was time to make a decision on the matter.

"We have been studying this for months," said Ricks.

Aguilar explained that she felt the cost analysis city staff did on privatization wasn't a true representation. She said it was her understanding that Veolia Water is not offering the same services that the current city water department crew provides.

"What would it take for us to do what Veolia proposes to do," said Aguilar.

Sunnyside resident Bob Johnson said he doesn't see any gain in the city privatizing. He said the city already has the resources to continue to operate the water department.

"Of the $289,000 the city is going to save what is Bob Johnson going to save," asked Johnson.

Vlieger said at the workshop he didn't hear any concrete reasons not to go with the idea of privatizing.

"What I heard at the last meeting was a lot of emotional intangibles," said Vlieger. "Everything people has brought to me has not been true."

Councilman Jim Restucci challenged the community to get a hold of him and change his mind about privatization, saying he was ready to vote for the measure at last night's meeting.

"I am planning on voting for this. It is a wonderful program," said Restucci. "You (the community) put me here. If you want me to change my mind, you have the next couple of weeks to do so."

Mayor Pro-tem Mike Farmer also voiced his displeasure with the Daily Sun News, saying the paper hasn't done a fair job of putting the pros and cons of privatization out to the public. Farmer suggested the city even purchase a full page ad in the newspaper explaining the privatization issue.

Farmer said the overwhelming comment he heard from the community was that the city hasn't done a good enough job of getting the information out to the public. Farmer, though, was quick to add that he, like all of the other residents, will have to live with the Council's decision to privatize.

"I am going to live with the same services you do," said Farmer.

Mayor Ed Prilucik said he went into last night's meeting prepared to make a decision on the matter. Prilucik said he did have some concerns with the risks of entering into the agreement and about the thoughts of the voters in the community.

After taking the motion to approve entering into the contract with Veolia Water off the table, the Council voted to delay making a decision on the privatization issue until at least March 28.

The dates of the community workshop on privatization have not set yet and will be announced at a future date.

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