San Diego considers privatizing more city services

By James R. Riffel

City News Service

Street sweeping, road and sidewalk maintenance, and public utilities' customer service and bill-collecting are among the next city services that could be privatized, San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders said Thursday.

The city already is preparing to bid out its printing and fleet-management divisions in the next couple of months.

"We don't know yet how much money we can save with this latest initiative, but we owe it to our citizens to see if we can cut our costs — and if so, by how much," Sanders said at a news conference.

Street sweeping has a $4.5 million budget and 32 full-time employees, Sanders said. He said that road and sidewalk maintenance was budgeted for $14.3 million, with 102 full-time workers.

The Public Utilities Department is "a bit of a different animal" because it's money comes from payments of water and sewer bills to city residents, not the general fund, Sanders said.

The mayor said that putting certain functions within public utilities out to bid will not save money for the general fund, but might lower bills for ratepayers, who have seen costs skyrocket in recent years — mainly because of rate increases by wholesalers before water reaches San Diego.

He said he hopes to invite bids for the three areas by November.

Considerable preparatory work is necessary, including a market study to see if there are enough private firms available to make bids. The city's managed competition system calls for at least two companies to make bids that save the city 10 percent.

Sanders said the affected divisions have already been reorganized to become as efficient as possible.

Employees are welcome to enter into the bidding to keep the functions within the city umbrella.

According to Sanders, street sweeping employees have already said they could work more efficiently if they got out from under their bureaucracy.

"It relies on our employees coming up with better models and cheaper models, and I think our employees are up to it," Sanders said.

Most bids for city services nationwide have been won by municipal employees, said Councilwoman Lorie Zapf.

The mayor said any savings realized from bidding out the services won't be seen until well into the next fiscal year. His goal is to narrow the city's structural deficit by the time he leaves office at the end of 2012.

"The more we save, the more we can spend on essential services like police and firefighting," Sanders said.

   
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