MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

February 12, 2011

Wastewater proposal not sitting well with some

A proposal to see if qualified private firms could manage Muskogee’s wastewater treatment plant is not sitting well with some City Council members and representatives of an employees’ union.

The Muskogee Public Works Committee voted 7-2 to solicit “statements of qualification” from firms that could manage the facility, located on Hancock Street east of the Muskogee Turnpike. Committee members who voted against the proposal were Kenny Payne and Jackie Luckey.

The vote is subject to City Council approval.

JoLynn Pierce, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, Local 2464, said she was concerned about “outsourcing” city services to a contractor. She asked who would citizens call if they had a problem with wastewater.

“At the end of the day, what is it going to cost the citizens?” Pierce said. She said the city increased managers’ salaries after the Muskogee City Engineer left and his job was not refilled.

Pierce said she and another union representative are compiling information to present to the council.

Muskogee Public Works Director Mike Stewart said a private contractor has approached the city about providing management services for the plant.

“We’re thinking we can increase the efficiency in operation,” Stewart told public works committee members.

Stewart said there could be a reduction in cost, reduction in energy use and more experience in plant operations.

“We are looking at utilizing our dollars better,” City Manager Greg Buckley said.

Stewart said the plant has 28 employees.

He said that if the city chooses to go with a private operator for the plant, “the employees would have the option of staying with the city or going with the company.”

Public Works Committee member Randy Howard said he didn’t see how the city would be saving money if it were keeping employees and hiring outside firms.

Luckey said he believes the city has the expertise to keep managing the plant.

“Do we not have that type of knowledge to run properly,” Luckey said.

Stewart said, “We try to keep up with Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality standards.

Payne said he was concerned about outside entities operating city programs.

Stewart said the city landfill has been operated by an outside entity for 19 years.

Mayor John Tyler Hammons said, “Employees must be given the opportunity to improve services.”

Muskogee City Attorney John Vincent said that once the city receives “request for proposals” from interested outside entities, the city must go to employees and say “This is their bid price, what can you do.”

Committee member Shawn Raper said the city is not talking about privatizing the wastewater treatment plant.

“We are talking about a possible management contract with a third party,” Raper said.

Reach Cathy Spaulding at 684-2928 or cspaulding @muskogeephoenix.com.

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