If Shreveport elected officials were to list the top 3 issues that need to be resolved, there is no doubt that these would be at the top of the list: water billing, EPA and SPD.
The Pernici Wainwright suit for alleged violations of the non disclosure agreement could cost the City as much as a million dollars. The water billing suit could expose the City to tens of millions of dollars payable to city water customers. Legal fees, estimated to be over $150,000 currently, could exceed a half a million dollars if both suits are fully litigated.
Compliance with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) consent decree for upgrading the City’s water and sewage system is being financed with the proceeds of the municipal bonds approved during the last years of the Glover Administration. The City’s departmental resources are being overtaxed with managing these construction projects which are on a short timeline. There is some speculation that the bond amounts may not be sufficient to cover all of the necessary improvements; if that situation occurs general operating funds will be required to satisfy the decree. Reportedly, there is discussion among water and sewer employees that the improvements mandated by the Consent Decree are far behind schedule.
The Shreveport crime rate is becoming alarming to citizens throughout the City and there is no doubt that the chronic understaffing of the Shreveport Police Department (SPD) is a factor. Most knowledgeable observers view the recent vote by the Shreveport City Council to spend $150,000 of operating reserves for more overtime patrols as a band-aid measure that fails to address the underlying problems of low pay, limited investigative resources, and deteriorating force morale. The City’s operating budget would need several million dollars a year to fully staff SPD with competitive salaries including retirement benefits.
Soo, where does one find a financial genie in a bottle, a combination of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy, that can provide the economic and management resources to remove these looming fiscal monsters from City Hall? Believe it or not, there IS an answer and its does not require creating the wheel or Shreveport becoming a municipal Guinea pig: a public private partnership (P3), which is a contract between a public sector entity and a private sector entity where the private sector assumes a major share of the risks in terms of financing and construction and ensuring effective performance of public infrastructure projects.
And lo and behold, a world wide P3 company is in fact interested in coming to the City to provide solutions for its water and sewer services including all of the water billing litigation and the current/future water billing as well as the EPA mandated construction. SUEZ, N.A. has over 120 years of experience in water and waste water management, providing over 7.4 million residents with these services working with over 16,000 municipal and industrial sites to meet their water infrastructure needs. Local attorney J. Ransdell Keene will make a presentation to the Shreveport City Council on Tuesday July 25 with two SUEZ solutions for the City: a sale of systems or a lease/concession.
As I see it, a sale could generate the City millions of dollars in a one time payment for a transfer of ownership and risk from the City to a P3 partner including the EPA consent decree and, hopefully resolve the current litigation. With an agreement with P3 partner, the department of Water and Sewage (DOWUS) employees would become employees of the P3 partner and the water and sewer rates could be regulated by the Louisiana Public Service Commission if there is a sale or by the City if there is a concession.
With a lease/concession agreement the P3 partner would operate the City's water and sewage system, utilizing its management expertise, technological innovation and customer service experience. This arrangement would generate millions of dollars to the City. This partnership would reduce operational costs and pass future savings to the City; it would also provide capital dollars to ensure that water and sewer systems are sustainable for a 40-year horizon including the EPA consent decree requirements. Water and sewerage rates could continue to be set by the City.
Keene advises that "months of private effort as a citizen has led me to engage the interest of SUEZ in coming to Shreveport. SUEZ is the second largest water, environmental and sewer company in the world. They desire to come to Shreveport and provide a significant solution. They are world-wide experts in this field, the City would be benefitted by opening negotiations." Keene expects to address the City Council on Tuesday, July 25 to review how SUEZ can assist the City.