Privatize 34 water districts?

Free film on issues of water privatization March 22 in Oakhurst

By Lynn Jacobsson / Guest CommentaryMarch 14, 2013 

The Madera County Board of Supervisors voted three to two in September 2012 to privatize and/or outsource services now provided by the County's 34 service areas and maintenance districts. "Privatization" can mean totally selling all districts to a for-profit operator, in this case, the American Water Co., or could be limited to outsourcing certain services while keeping county ownership and local control.

The supervisors set up a Utilities Privatization Committee (UPC) to study this issue. At the UPC's first meeting on Nov. 7, local residents raised so many objections to selling off the special districts to for-profit operators, that the committee voted against recommending outright sale of the districts.

At the second committee meeting December, it was decided to send out a survey to the approximately 6,000 residents to gauge public opinion on how satisfied county customers were with cost, quality and responsiveness of the county service in their districts, as well as exploratory questions on outsourcing of some functions of the county's services.

On March 8, the Utilities Special Committee Meeting met and reviewed the results of the survey. Although there was no direct question regarding the privatization of sewer and water services, about 60% of the customers did not support spending district funds for an evaluation of whether a private company can operate and maintain the county's sewer and water system.

However, partial privatization remains under study, and it is the board of supervisors -- not the Utilities Privatization Committee -- which will make the final decision.

With a view to sharing the status of the issue of privatization in Madera County water districts, a committee of Madera County residents are sponsoring a film on the issues of water privatization, titled "Thirst," on Friday, March 22 at 6 p.m. at the Sierra Senior Center (next to the Oakhurst Community Center). The film is free to the public. Featured in the film is the experience of the City of Stockton, and the efforts of citizens of Stockton to wrestle back control of their water company from the multi-national British corporation -- OMI Thames -- after their mayor and city council voted to privatize the public water company.

In the discussion after the film, Tony Ward of the Madera Oversight Coalition and Lloyd Carter, president of Save Our Streams, will join members of the Community Utilities Council -- a grassroots citizens' group formed to address special district issues in Madera County -- to discuss the future direction of the privatization issue of water in Madera County. The results of the Utilities Special Committee Survey and the latest recommendations of the committee considering privatization and outsourcing will be shared.

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