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Sewer plant plan in pipeline
The city wants to turn over operation of a waste-water facility


VENICE -- Not quite a decade after taking back management of its waste-water treatment operations, the city is again looking to farm the job out.

City Manager George Hunt will seek bids from private firms later this year, with the idea of turning over administration of the Eastside Wastewater Treatment plant on Jan. 1, 2004.

The city operates two plants, but will close the Island Beach plant early next year. In confirming the plan Friday, Hunt called it a cost-saving measure.

The pollution-control operations budget is about $3.44 million, with $1.25 million allocated for city personnel costs.

But Hunt also acknowledged that the privatization plan was influenced by the increased supervision required of city staff over the Eastside plant's pollution-control division.

Last year, a panel of three city officials interviewed pollution-control workers to investigate charges of abusive management practices against four managers at the Eastside plant.

While all four managers were eventually absolved, the investigation proved an embarrassment for the city, which hired an assistant director specifically to handle all personnel matters within the utilities department.

"There has been very little letup in the politics of the division this year," Hunt said Friday. The city has operated sewer services since the 1994-95 fiscal year, when it assumed operation from McCullough Environmental Services Inc., of Murfreesboro, Tenn. McCullough operated the plant for seven years. Before that, it was a city-run utility.

McCullough's last contract called for a payment of $980,483 per year. A 1993 city audit of McCullough showed about $12,000 in questionable expenses -- including an attempt to charge the city $7,676 for the depreciation in the value of city-owned equipment and office furniture.

Hunt said the city learned from that situation and would give the assistant utilities director immediate oversight of any private company.

"That would be the major difference between our previous privatization and this one," Hunt said.

City officials informed about 30 waste-water treatment plant workers Wednesday that their jobs may be farmed out to the private sector. Typically, when a municipality contracts with a private firm to take over a service, displaced employees are offered first crack at their old job with the new firm.

City Administrative Services Director Jane O'Connor said that language will be worked out when the city puts out its request for proposals.

The city would still be responsible for the conduct of a private contractor, a state Department of Environmental Protection spokesperson said. The city is not seeking to privatize wastewater collection, water distribution or the water production aspects of the utilities department, Hunt said.