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Dirty word or saving grace?

The public-private partnership debate continues to rage--see the news item on page 11 about a new landfill that will soon be under construction in North Carolina.

According to a recent poll in "Public Works Business Update," PUBLIC WORKS' monthly e-newsletter, most of you feel privatization is not the answer to maintaining the budget for specific services.

"Privatizing any service will result in higher costs and poor quality of work," says James Williams of Osage City, Kan., who's spent 45 years as a public servant.

Williams' agency caught contractors turning in work orders with equipment and personnel who weren't on the job. He also fired a roadway lighting contractor who replaced a 5 kV-amp fuse in the luminaries with 3/8 cold roll, causing all the underground wiring to burn out whenever the system overloaded. He assumed storms and power surges were the culprit--until he asked the contractor bidder to investigate the contractor's reliability.

Alan Gesford, previously public works director for Lancaster, Pa., says, "Give me the authority and resources, and I will get the job done in-house at less cost, better quality, and better control--all advantages toward better government and satisfied citizens." He gave four examples of how privatizing initially seemed less expensive and more efficient for his city, but how creative problem-solving enabled his department to deliver services more effectively. We'll share Gesford's solutions in greater detail next month.

What's your experience with privatization or public-private partnerships? We're featuring the privatization of capital improvement projects next month, so contact senior editor Amara Rozgus at if you have any advice for your public works colleagues.

In the meantime, for more information on public-private partnerships and other issues you wrestle with daily, visit In addition to an archive of articles on the disciplines you handle daily--water, waste, roads, and fleets--you can sign up to receive the monthly "Public Works Business Update" e-newsletter for no charge.

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Title Annotation:Letters to the editor
Publication:Public Works
Article Type:Letter to the editor
Date:Aug 1, 2006
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