Privatization: An Insiderís View
Why is the Board of County Commissioners examining public/private partnerships (PPP)? What are they and what are some examples of these that have worked and are working in Frederick County right now.
First, why is the Board of County Commissioners exploring this opportunity of another service delivery model to deliver services to the citizens?
Well, if you do not care about the fact that Frederick County is spending more than it is taking in, and only care about balancing the budget using whatever financial tactics are necessary, you are probably not a fan of these commissioners.
The plan is to balance the budget using sound financial principals and getting Frederick County’s financial house in order by getting expenses in line with revenues. Using transfers and fund balances have been employed for far too long and it has only gotten worse over time, not better.
Not until these commissioners took office and started making the tough, the right, decisions when dealing with the 2012 budget did this practice begin to change. In November, the commissioners heard a loud and clear message from the voters … taxes and fees are out of control.
So, if the majority of citizens do not want the county to expand/increase revenue by increasing taxes and fees, then the commissioners need to get the county’s expenses under control and not continue to rob Peter to pay Paul with transfers and the use of one-time revenue sources to fund recurring expenses. Public/Private Partnerships can help get these expenses under control and eliminate long-term liabilities.
A public/private partnership is just what the name implies. It is a contractual arrangement whereby the resources, risks and rewards of both the public agency and the private company are combined to provide greater efficiency, better access to capital and improved compliance with a range of government regulations regarding the environment and workplace.
The public’s interests are fully assured through provisions in the contracts that provide for on-going monitoring and oversight of the operation, or a service, or the development of a facility. In this way everyone wins – the government entity, the private company and the general public.
Public/private partnerships are more common than you may think. In Frederick County there is one with the company that picks up the blue recycling bins. Many municipalities have public/private partnerships with companies that pick up the trash for its citizens.
When the waste-to-energy facility is completed, it will be run by a private company, not county employees. Frederick County roads are now maintained in part by public/private partnerships. Private contractors are hired for snow removal, patching and/or repaving, painting traffic stripes, etc. These contracts work well and are beneficial for all parties.
In Long Island, NY, the government owned bus system will be converted into a public/private partnership by the end of the year, insuring services and saving taxpayers millions of tax dollars.
This arrangement can be used, and has been used, with accounting, airports, and air traffic control, animal shelter operations and management, bridge repair and maintenance, building financing, operations and maintenance, correctional facilities, daycare facilities, engineering, financial planning, golf courses, graphic design and printing, human resources administration, information technology infrastructure and network services, legal services, mental health services and facilities, park operations and maintenance, parking lots and parking meters, planning and permitting, risk management, road maintenance, school construction, buses, cafeteria and driver’s education, stadium and convention center management, street cleaning and snow removal, swimming pools, toll roads and zoo operations. It’s the full spectrum, from A to Z.
As is obvious, there are a lot and probably more. While there can be substantial misperceptions about the value of partnerships, a look at who endorses them should clarify the picture. The federal, state and many local governments have been and currently are using them. Certainly there are opportunities for savings in Frederick County.
The commissioners owe it to the taxpayers to explore and do the due diligence to see if there is another way to find more revenues, without raising taxes. The fact is the government has a spending problem, not a revenue problem. This Board of County Commissioners is committed to giving the taxpayers tax relief; so, business as usual and the status quo is not an option.
The commissioners requested a study of possible public/private partnerships for Frederick County and it was delivered on June 16, 2011. You can find a copy of the study using this link: http://www.frederickcountymd.gov/documents/Board%20of%20County%20Commissioners/Frederick%20County%20Report%20FINAL%20(2011%2006%2016).PDF.
Also, by using the following link, you can view a discussion about this topic between Dave Dunn, acting county manager and me. (http://frederick.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?view_id=5&clip_id=2757)
We have scheduled four public hearings to begin the discussion about expanding public/private partnerships in Frederick County. Please plan to attend and share your views, pro or con, with your elected officials.
The hearings are set for: Tuesday, July 12 at 7 P.M.; Tuesday, July 19 at 9 A.M.; Thursday, July 21 at 1:30 P.M. and Tuesday, July 26 at 7 P.M. All meetings will take place in the First Floor Hearing Room of Winchester Hall. Everyone will be given the opportunity to be heard. The meetings will also be broadcast on Cable Channel 19 and streamed live over the county’s webpage.
Please join us as we explore the public/private partnerships for our county to make sure we are currently operating effectively and efficiently. If you cannot attend one or more of the meetings, but have suggestions of areas that would benefit from a public/private partnership, please send that information to the Board of County Commissioners by mail, e-mail or by phone using the following information.
The mailing address is 12 East Church Street, Frederick, MD 21701
The e-mail address is countycommissioners@FrederickCountyMD.gov
Phone any of the commissioners at 301-600-1100.
In future columns I will provide more detailed examples of success stories when public/private partnerships are done correctly to ensure the level and quality of service to the citizens.