Ohio City Stop Con Ops Talks

Malcolm-Pirnie and Union Align to
End Process and Get Mayor Voted Out

Unions Claim Victory Over Job Loss


Tuesday, November 16, 1999

By JANET H. CHO
PLAIN DEALER REPORTER

NORTH ROYALTON - A week after voters
bounced Mayor Gary F. Barna out of office,
he has withdrawn his proposal to have an
outside firm called U.S. Filter Operating
Services take over the city's sewer system.

For 16 city wastewater employees who had
fretted about losing their jobs, that means
they can start looking for ways to cut
residents' high sewer rates. And for City
Council members, it means the end to
months of wrangling over the pros and
cons of privatization. Barna's proposal has
been taken off tonight's council agenda.

The council will now review money-saving
recommendations made by wastewater
employees and by independent consultant
Malcolm Pirnie, which include ideas like:

- Converting to in-house billing.

- Streamlining operations at the sewer
plants to make the most efficient use of
staff and equipment.

- Applying profits from the compost facility
to reducing expenses.

- Earning revenue by hauling in septic tank
waste.

"We're very happy. I feel we won a major
battle against U.S. Filter, because they
wanted to get a foothold in this town and
we prevented it," said Bill Wagner, an
operations department employee and
president of the American Federation of
State, County and Municipal Employees
Local 3410. "We did our homework and we
came out on top."

Mike Bode, assistant superintendent of the
Wastewater Department, said: "Just
because the U.S. Filter proposal's been
removed from the agenda, it doesn't
remove the pressure on us to operate more
efficiently. We still need to lower sewer
rates for the residents of North Royalton."

Council President Edward W. McGrath
promised, "The ultimate goal of the council
is that we will make every effort to ensure
that our sewer rates are as low as they can
be."

Barna, who fell 24 votes shy of qualifying
for the runoff election next month, said
yesterday that he would leave the fate of
the city's wastewater operations up to the
next mayor.

Both finalists for mayor, Councilwoman
Cathy Luks and former U.S. and State Rep.
Ronald Mottl Sr., have said they oppose
privatization. Voters will choose one of
them as the next mayor Dec. 7.

"Malcolm Pirnie said that currently the city
is not operating competitively. We could be
saving about $400,000 a year with good
leadership," Wagner said.

Yet when council asked wastewater staff
members to analyze the Malcolm Pirnie
report and see which ideas they could
adopt, "the mayor said they were too busy
to respond," McGrath said. City employees
said they were never given a chance to
answer.

Barna's proposal, which he initially said
would save the city more than $1 million
and shrink sewer rates up to 20 percent,
called for having U.S. Filter Operating
Services take over the sewer plants,
composting plant, pumping stations and
sewer lines and refinance capital debts
over 30 years. His recent campaign ads
promised a 10 percent reduction in sewer
bills.

Finance Director Karen Fegan told council
members she estimated those savings at
more like $200,000 to $700,000, minus
about $175,000 in severance pay for
wastewater employees.

Union officials said
they were told the wastewater staff would
be cut in half and that workers that were
retained by U.S. Filter would lose their city
pensions and longevity.
(emphasis added)

"I was totally against it," said Ward 6
Councilman-elect Bob Stefanik. "I'm glad to
hear that [privatization is no longer on the
table-, because it was a vague proposal
from the beginning. We kept hearing
different numbers all the time. Council
never really got the opportunity to look at
all the facts for it. Hopefully, this will be
put to bed."

E-mail: jcho@plaind.com Phone: (216)
999-4849

1999 THE PLAIN DEALER.