Little Chute moves to privatize village water utility

By J.E. Espino
Post-Crescent staff writer

LITTLE CHUTE — In a strained 4-3 vote Wednesday, village trustees sided with the Water Commission’s recommendation to privatize the village water utility.

But instead of entering into a $1 million, five-year contract with Midwest Contract Operations of Neenah, as the commission proposed, the Village Board will draw up requests for proposals from different companies and has asked MCO to revise its proposal.

“I don’t see this is how you reward people who’ve been loyal, taking their jobs like that,” said Trustee Bill Peerenboom, one of three trustees to vote against privatizing.

Since May, the water department has operated with two employees, rotating pager duties every other week. With privatization, those employees are now likely to be transferred to the public works department.

Trustees supporting the commission’s solution to the water department’s staffing shortages counter there are broader issues to be looked at, however, and privatization has its benefits.

“This is a manageability issue; it is a safety program,” said Trustee Judd Vanden Heuvel. “They (MCO) are going to bring the expertise we cannot afford as a village.

“It’s going to work, and in the event of an emergency, say someone like MCO were to drop us, we still have our village expertise, who’ll be in public works,” he said.

A resident, Peter Litersky Sr., asking trustees whether they had considered the annual rising costs the village would incur as a result of privatization, was told costs would inevitably go up even if the village were to have kept the utility.

“The cost of operating (the utility) will go up no matter what,” said Village President John Rooyakkers, who despite being torn by the issue in previous meetings, ended up siding with the commission.

Vanden Heuvel added, “It’s just a thought to bare in mind; going to the market is not always cheaper.”

One trustee was relieved to see the village clear its first hurdle in its quest to privatize.

“I have a lot of respect for the people in the Water Commission,” said Trustee Chuck Fischer. “They’re always looking out for the village’s best interest. I didn’t want to go against our commission. For me, the determining point was seeing that they unanimously favored privatization.”

J.E. Espino can be reached at 920-993-1000, ext. 426, or by e-mail at jespino@ postcrescent.com