According to city manager Michael Stampfler, there were about 22 managers Tuesday and about 15 Thursday. “They were just taking the tour, seeing what the system looks like, learning the general layout and some of the types of equipment used and what some of the problems are,” he said. He also said he did not know which firms, if any, were represented, or how many of them there might have been.
The City Council previously approved a plan that would turn over the system, which is currently in the midst of federal litigation, to a private management firm. The city would retain ownership of the system, however.
Stampfler said the deadline for management proposals is Jan. 14, and the council will likely consider the final choices either during the second meeting in January or the first meeting in February. He said he did not have any way of knowing how many companies would actually submit proposals.
Stampfler said water and sewer management is a professional service and thus not subject to the state bid law.
The tour bus was chartered through Cline Tours of Birmingham at a cost of $545 per day, plus $16.35 in credit card fees. The cost will come out of the budget for the Water and Sewer Department.
“There were too many of them to fit in one of the city’s vans, and we didn’t want to have them walking,” Stampfler said.
The city is facing the loss of federal funding for failure to comply with a consent agreement stemming from the investigation into illegal usage of the Grant Street Well. While problems at the well itself and in other parts of the system were remedied in a timely fashion, many others were not completed on schedule.
According to the presentation Stampfler presented to the council during an executive session, a private management firm could, among other things, help to attract outside investment and deflect future liability away from the city.
How a private management firm would attract outside investment was not clear, and, as Stampfler clarified later, not necessarily a part of any final agreement.
The same was true of the assertions that this particular option would shield customers from rate increases. This option is also described in the council’s authorization resolution as an “interim approach,” although the duration of the interim has also not been established yet.