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Workers' Hopes Buoyed As Budget Commission Tables Water Plant RFP

Bid to bargain to keep facility public gets boost, board to hear North Smithfield Town Administrator's inquiry.

 

Ken DeLorenzo, executive director of RI Council 94 AFCSCME, asked the Budget Commission to keep the city's drinking water plant public, offering to negotiate to match savings they'd get by privatizing.

The Budget Commission agreed to hear them out, and also delayed a vote on sending a Request for proposal (RFP) out for a new water treatment plant contractor. 

Budget Commission Chairman Bill Sequino said an e-mail he received from North Smithfield Town Administrator Paulette Hamilton asked to consult with the Budget Commission on the decision. The water treatment plant supplies water to North Smithfield, among other northern RI communities. He said the delay on approving an RFP would allow them to address her questions and comments first.

The new plant will be built on 18 acres behind Bernon Heights School purchased by the town from Roland Michaud Dec. 18, according to MyWoonsocket.com.

The city was under a Department of Environmental Management deadline to upgrade the city's facilities, improving the quality of drinking water and eliminating pollutants discharged into the Blackstone River by March 2013, but a new consent agreement signed May 30 gives the city until 2016. 

As it happens, a memo from DPW Director Sheila McGauvran notes approving an RFP doesn't lock them into any of the four possible design/construction options: Design Bid Build (DBB); Design Build (DB) GMAX Design Build (DB) or Design Build Operate (DBO).

The previous City Council voted for a DBO, which would privatize the plant, but the current council has voted for a DBB or DB. 

McGauvran recommended issuing the RFP for a DBO contract, but she wrote that approviing the RFP would allow a better analysis of the costs, and no commitment. "We are confident that tremendous saving will be generated as we saw overwhelmingly with the DBO at our city's wastewater treatment plant," she wrote. But, if the city decides it's not in its best interest, "...we always reserve the right to reject all proposals and proceed accordingly." 

"I have to question why the City of Woonsocket would want to privatize the drinking water operation," DeLorenzo said. He noted that one possible reason was cost savings, but, the private company only appears cheaper because they use fewer people in their proposal, he said, which is unrealistic. However, "The union would always welcome negotiating with the city," he said, if it meant the water treatment plant would remain in the public domain.

DeLorenzo said the union could operate the new plant better and more efficiently, for the same cost as a private contractor. "You would not know this because you have not spoken with the union officials," he said.

Privatization takes away the city's control of costs, of the water itself, control of the operation and the services and financial information of the contractor, he said.   

The Budget Commission voted to table the vote on the RFP until they could speak with Hamilton, giving the union time to begin negotiations with Dan Kinder, the negotiator assigned to the union-city talks on concessions. 

"We're a little more encouraged than we were before the meeting," DeLorenzo said.

Dan Darling, president of Local 670, said they weren't approached about cost savings, but they're willing to talk to make sure the new water plant is public. Woonsocket residents best interests lay in keeping it public, too, he said, since a private operator would work for a profit. "We work for the rate payer," Darling said.

woonytaxpayer February 05, 2013 at 11:40 AM
Thank God for Ken DeLorenzo, how can they even think about privatizing. Don't they know the long term effects and how high our water bills will be. They are trying to cut a sneaky deal with Michauid. As citizens we need to stand up against this. North Smithfield and other surrounding communities will also be affected. What is the rush on this I think our water treatment facility has many good years ahead...Slow it down, really what is the rush. It is obviously someone benefits from this and it is not the taxpayers.
Nelson Aldrich February 05, 2013 at 02:11 PM
Don't question their decisions,they're obviously a lot smarter than us.Does anyone know the interest rate on this 35 million dollar behemoth?
taxed to the max February 06, 2013 at 02:26 AM
One more thing done wrong that the citizens will pick up the tab.
taxed to the max February 06, 2013 at 02:37 AM
Overwhelming savings apparently not reflected in my increasing waste water bill.
bob b. February 06, 2013 at 03:05 PM
We can`t pay the bills now,how in the world can we even think of building a plant,if the state mandates it ,let them pay for it,go ahead and fine us ,you can`t get blood out of a stone.
give me a break February 06, 2013 at 10:57 PM
the budget comm. should grow some B***s and tell Gov. goofy there's no money you want it you build it
David T March 09, 2013 at 01:22 PM
Not necessarily in favor of the privatization of a new drinking water plant, but I'm in favor of a new plant. The one we have now is archaic people! The tanks and pipes on the insides are rusted. Several times a week the plant's filtration system has to be back washed into the river to rid itself of all the built up contaminants and chemicals that gets collected in the charcoal filters. It comes out as a blackish colored water. Folks, what stuff doesn't get cleaned from our drinking water! I don't know how to pay for this but I think the state and the General Assembly has been screwing this city for decades by forcing us to be a mecca for housing and services for the state which has resulted in our school department budget going into the stratosphere. The state could and should be helping us. I think we also have to blame the lack of money to upgrade our water plant on the foolish move by the city to take a loan out in 2003 of 90 million to play the markets to solve the pension problem. Forget about the school budget, the city screwed itself and on its own and is responsible for sending us into bankruptcy so that now we can't afford safer drinking water.

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