Pittsburgh controller cautions against privatization of PWSA
Pittsburgh Controller Michael Lamb on Thursday applauded the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authorityâ€™s steady improvements under the control of the Pennsylvania Utilities Commission and warned against calls to privatize the water authority.
Peoples Natural Gas has proposed creating Peoples Water and developing a public-private partnership with PWSA.
Lamb said improvements at the water authority could have happened without PUC oversight but didnâ€™t.
â€śTheir oversight has brought a new focus to finance and customer service and to long-term planning, and itâ€™s forced the PWSA to set ambitious but achievable goals,â€ť Lamb said during a press conference. â€śI didnâ€™t expect this, but the PUC oversight has set the PWSA on the course toward becoming a much more effective and efficient organization.â€ť
He said the authorityâ€™s expanding online communications and customer service efforts, as well as an increased number of capital projects.
â€śTheyâ€™ve done significant steps in lead line replacement this year and last year, so theyâ€™re getting there as well,â€ť he said regarding water quality. â€śTheyâ€™re not there yet, but theyâ€™re getting there.â€ť
State lawmakers in 2017 passed legislation that placed the authority under PUC control in an effort to address PWSAâ€™s chronic problems.
Lamb said talks of privatization are â€śmisguided and premature,â€ť and he tried to dispel what he called myths surrounding the push to privatize.
The first is the idea that PWSAâ€™s debt problems will inhibit investment and improvement â€“ the idea that the authority has so much debt that they cannot take on any more.
â€śThatâ€™s just a false statement,â€ť Lamb said, noting that the authorityâ€™s credit rating is actually better than the cityâ€™s.
He also said the idea that a private water service is going to be established, â€śso we might as well just invite them in and work with them,â€ť is a false narrative.
â€śItâ€™s not an accurate description of whatâ€™s going on,â€ť he said.
Lambâ€™s comments come a week after three water and sewer experts similarly urged city council to be cautious in considering privatization and private-public partnerships.
â€śWhen it comes right down to it there are only two ways that a private company can make a profit running a public service: raising prices or cutting costs,â€ť said Bill Henry, a Baltimore city councilman, told council members last week. â€śRaising prices is raising the cost of water to your constituents, while cutting costs means either reducing worker pay and benefits or reducing services, the brunt of which usually falls on low-income and communities of color.