The first meeting of Fort Worth’s water utility task force, appointed by Mayor Betsy Price and the City Council to look into the feasibility of privatizing parts of the city’s water and wastewater services, will be 2 p.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday in pre-council chambers at City Hall.
The task force is chaired by Freese and Nichols CEO Bob Pence. Other members: Lairy Johnson, of major water user Miller Brewing Co.; Marty Leonard, representing the Tarrant Regional Water District; engineer Raul Pena; former city development director Bob Riley; former assistant city manager Vernell Sturns; Cantey Hanger environmental attorney Sarah Walls; former assistant city manager Libby Watson; and former City Councilman Jeff Wentworth.
The City Council on March 5 approved a $328,622 contract with EMA Inc. to study the city’s operations and develop and manage the process of soliciting interest from potential private providers. The council also named the task force at the same meeting.
The city department is already operating at a high level of efficiency, Fernando Costa, assistant city manager, told council members at the March meeting (See video). EMA, in a 2010 study of Fort Worth, found there were “significant opportunities to realize greater efficiency” in only 5 percent of the department’s budget, Costa said.
The median among comparable departments nationally was 25 percent, he said.
“This study is not about any large-scale inefficiencies in the water department,” Costa told the council. “We have a great deal of confidence in the water department. It’s running very, very well, but, as always, we want to make sure that we pursue any opportunities that we might find for greater efficiency.”
Of the department’s $201.1 million operations and maintenance budget, $20.4 million is now outsourced to private providers.
Those services include sewage treatment in far North and East Fort Worth; operation and maintenance of energy generation facilities; residential meter reading; bill production and mailing; large-diameter sewer pipe clearance and condition assessment; industrial, commercial and institutional water use audits; root eradication services; and pump and motor maintenance.
Potential partnerships could involve long-term lease of infrastructure, service provision, and upfront payment or debt reduction, Costa told the council.
“We do not anticipate under any conditions that would involve the sale or transfer of infrastructure,” Costa said. “We’re not talking about selling the water system.”
- Scott Nishimura, Star-Telegram Fort Worth City Hall reporter