Don't privatize, say water workers

News staff writer

A group of Birmingham Water Works Board employees said Wednesday that they oppose any effort to allow a private company to manage the region's water system assets.

"We support the board getting the assets back," said Don Allen, president of the Water Works' Employees Association. Allen, a service representative, said his group doesn't want an outside firm to manage the system because it could lead to cuts in jobs as well as increases in water rates.

Allen said the association's 12-member board, which serves as a liaison between the water works nearly 500 employees and management, wants to make sure the Birmingham City Council doesn't repeal its decision to return the system's assets to the Water Works.

A possible resolution circulating among council members calls for a reversal of the transfer and requests that Mayor Bernard Kincaid hire a private company to manage the system.

Allen said the group met Tuesday night after learning about the resolution, and about 50 Water Works employees stood with Allen during his news conference Wednesday.

Kincaid, who sued the council and water board to halt the transfer, said he supports a compromise that keeps the assets with the city, but he doesn't want a private company to run it. The water system should become a city department, Kincaid said.

The association doesn't have a position on Kincaid's city department goal, Allen said.

Water Works Board member Jim Lowery said the mayor shouldn't try to block the transfer. "The management that is in place is working well."

The water board continues to manage the system, which is owned by the city, until the judge rules in Kincaid's suit.

In July, the council overrode the mayor's veto and approved a $471 million deal to return the system to the Water Works. Kincaid sued to stop the move.

In 1998, the water board handed its assets to the city for $1. The city planned to privatize the utility to get money for school projects, but voters rejected the sale.

The current deal calls for the water board to pay the city $206 million, assume payments on a recent $57 million bond issue for school construction and assume about $208 million of water system debt.

2000 The Birmingham News. Used with permission.