Candidate Q&A: Is privatization of city services a good option?

Periodically, a push arises in the community for the city to sell and/or turn some of its services over to the private sector – especially garbage-collection services, and the Antelope Hills Golf Course.

With the city facing upwards of $78 million in unfunded liability with the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System (PSPRS), the issue has come up again as a means of paying down the shortfall.

Throughout the early 2000s, the 36-hole Antelope Hills Golf Course in northeast Prescott had suffered losses. In 2014, in the midst of those losses, the council opted to contract with a private firm, Billy Casper Golf, to manage the municipal golf course.

Still, some in the community continue to maintain that the city should sell the course and allow the private sector to own and operate it.

Privatization of trash collection has also generated some support in recent years. In late 2016, the council debated the issue of soliciting proposals from private firms to take over the operation within city limits.

A majority of council members opposed the move, however, maintaining that the city provides the service more efficiently, and at a lower cost.

Here, candidates for Prescott Mayor and City Council offer their views on privatization:

Are there any enterprise funds the city should no longer be operating (airport, golf course, garbage collection)?

Council candidates

Connie Cantelme: I think the city should continue on the path it has with these assets until the need arises that the one that is not performing to its potential is sold. If the city can continue to support these assets, without them becoming another burden on the taxpayer, then I would leave them intact.

Phil Goode: I do believe there is opportunities to outsource some City services. For example, the privatization of garbage collection has not been seriously analyzed for more than 10 years. City management should look at this and other outsourcing and privatization of City services in a more comprehensive manner. Prescott needs to streamline services for more efficiency and lower cost.

Greg Lazzell: Currently the airport and golf course is a great asset to the city. I have in the past, recommended to send out an RFQ for solid waste collection. Currently I know our city employees are doing the best job. I still would like to see a current study done to confirm my opinion.

Alexa Scholl: The enterprise funds that the city operates should be periodically reviewed to assess whether or not it would be more cost effective to privatize enterprise services or enter into a private/public partnerships. The needs of the community in addition to the cost of service would also need to be considered when making decisions about enterprise funds.

Joe Viccica: Our enterprise funds directly link to our quality of life. We should continue operating them. I believe these contribute to our ranking as “13th Happiest and Healthiest” city nationwide. I would be hard pressed to believe any other organization could maintain our high levels of service.

Steve Blair: No we have studied them all and we are on target. Providing the best services to our customers at the lowest prices. We have already privatized the golf course because it made economic sense. The airport and garbage collections are not the same.

Mayor candidates

Mary Beth Hrin: Given our financial crisis, it is imperative the city look at all enterprise funds as well as the remodeling of all city departments to cut costs. A managed competition program works where all city departments compete with the private sector to see who can compete to provide the best service at the lowest cost.

Greg Mengarelli: This is both an economic question and a political question. As for the airport, government authorities, not the private sector, operate most successful regional airports. As for the golf courses and the garbage service, the questions to be weighed are: Is there a willing buyer? Will the buyer provide the same or better service? Will the sale of the enterprise ultimately provide a savings or profit for the city?

Jean Wilcox: With respect to the airport, I would pursue partnering with Prescott Valley, Chino Valley and Yavapai County so that we can share in the costs and benefits of expanding our airport. 2. With respect to the golf course, we need to gradually shift operation and ownership to a private company, with guarantees that the golf course will remain open to the public. 3. Garbage collection is a fundamental service that must be provided, regardless of the ability to pay. Serious public health problems can occur when solid waste is not picked up and properly disposed of in a timely manner. A private company can stop their service if not paid; the city will not – for public health reasons.