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City studies private sewer help

By Julie Fernandez

City Manager Kevin Northcraft emphasized this is "not a front-burner thing" but confirmed he is studying the feasibility of contracting with private companies to provide sewer, treatment plant, street sweeping, and transit services.

The study is an attempt to explore all options "in an effort to be as cost-effective as we can," Northcraft said.

The hiring of Lew Nelson as assistant public-works director has alleviated "a lot of my concerns" about the wastewater-treatment plant because he comes to Tulare with considerable experience in that area, he said.

News of the study surfaced at last week's Board of Public Utilities meeting after commissioners wondered why the proposed 2003-04 budget doesn't include dollars to fill the vacant wastewater superintendent's position.

The job has been vacant for quite a while and the city has hired consultant who works two days a week on treatment-plant issues.

"Maybe we have already privatized it," Commissioner Ken Nunes quipped.

Northcraft said the future of street-sweeping operations is "probably on the front burner a little bit more" than the other services.

He has discussed with Visalia City Manager Steve Salomon the possibility of joining with other cities to contract with a company for the service, he said.

As for the transit system, the city manager said Tulare is possibly the only city in the area that operates its own system. The Visalia Coach system, for example, is contracted out to Laidlaw Transportation.

Northcraft said he suspects "it's a matter of time" before there is just one transit system for the whole county, since that is what has happened elsewhere in the state.

No one on the City Council is pushing for privatization but he is looking at it because "one of our goals is to be as cost effective as we can," Northcraft said.