Augusta Commission members explore privatization options in Sandy Springs

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As Augusta Commission members debate the merits of privatizing government functions, three of them on Monday made an exploratory visit to an Atlanta suburb where nearly everything is privately run.

Mayor Pro Tem Joe Bowles and Commissioners Joe Jackson and Wayne Guilfoyle traveled with City Administrator Fred Russell and Solid Waste Director Mark Johnson to speak with John McDonough, the city manager of Sandy Springs.

“The meeting was very positive,” Guilfoyle said. “It would be enlightening if our colleagues would keep an open mind for the 200,000 people that we represent.”

Sandy Springs, a city of about 100,000 formed from unincorporated Fulton County in 2005, employs just six people, excluding 296 police and fire workers, according to Communications Director Sharon Kraun.

Kraun is actually an employee of The Collaborative, a firm that won a bid to provide communications and community development services for Sandy Springs last year for $2.82 million.

Jacobs Engineering Group Inc. provides municipal court and recreation services at an annual cost of $1.6 million, and URS Corp. handles public works for about $3.1 million, Kraun said.

Though Augusta government is vastly different from that of6-year-old Sandy Springs, Guilfoyle said he learned that that difference could be a positive thing as Augusta moves toward privately managed services. The commission continues to debate the merits of a recent 6-4 vote to outsource management of Augusta Public Transit to a private firm to save money.

“We have an advantage because we have a long history of what (government) costs, versus they had to start off with a blank business plan,” Guilfoyle said.

After incorporating, Sandy Springs initially hired CH2M Hill to manage all city services for $25 million. Last year, after putting the services back out for bids, officials got the annual total cost of services down to $17 million, he said.

“It’s interesting to see how other people work,” Jackson said by phone on his way back to Augusta with Guilfoyle, Russell and Bowles in a van driven by Johnson. Jackson said he had learned that morning of a visit organized by Bowles and Russell and decided to go along.

“It was a good educational event, like a field trip,” Jackson said. “Three commissioners take off from their own work to go exploring.”

Bowles did not return calls for comment. Commissioner Jerry Brig­ham said he hadn’t been invited.

“If we were just getting started, we’d outsource most of our people, just like they did,” Brigham said. “Augusta’s been around almost 300 years, and we have things that are in place that they don’t have in place.”

Russell said he had picked up a copy of Sandy Springs’ privatization “guru” Oliver W. Porter’s book about the public-private partnership model for city government.

“Citizens deserve for us to take a look at everything,” Russell said. “I don’t think it’s right to take anything off the table at this moment.”

Porter has written two books about the “PPP model,” including Creating the New City of Sandy Springs and Public/Private Partnerships for Local Government. Porter and McDonough together make up PPP Associates, according to the consulting firm’s Web site.

A retired vice president for AT&T, Porter also has advised the Georgia cities of Johns Creek, Milton and Dunwoody on the use of private industry to deliver government services, his résumé says.

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Vito45
-2
Points
Vito45 10/03/11 - 10:09 pm
0
0
It will never fly in Augusta.

It will never fly in Augusta. Too many incestuous cush jobs working for the city/county.

alinfun
24
Points
alinfun 10/03/11 - 10:25 pm
0
0
Would be nice to see it work!

Would be nice to see it work! It's long past time to clean out the house and get things in order in Augusta, GA. Gentlemen thanks for taking time out of your schedules and trying to come up with solutions. I wish more elected officials in the CSRA would try to come up with ideas to help improve our city. Keep up the good work!

mrducks
59
Points
mrducks 10/03/11 - 10:34 pm
0
0
What is the relationship
Unpublished

What is the relationship between Joe Bowles, who may run for mayor, and Greg Bowles, who is implicated in the fire department scandal? Brother? Uncle? Who knows? The construction company is pretty sketchy, but does good business despite shoddy work. Used to like Joe's work on the commission, but he's proven to be one of the "good old boys," something this city DOES NOT NEED ANY MORE OF.

Asitisinaug
3
Points
Asitisinaug 10/03/11 - 11:53 pm
0
0
Sandy Springs is an excellent

Sandy Springs is an excellent run community, efficient, cost effective, etc. For once, I agree on spending a little to explore and study so long as they will do something positive afterwards.

For those who said the world was coming to an end when public transportation went private - thus far we have saved a good deal of tax money and have a better service according to all reports.

shrimp for breakfast
5460
Points
shrimp for breakfast 10/04/11 - 01:05 am
0
0
Something that will never

Something that will never work is privatizing mass transit. At least here in Augusta. There is absolutely no way on earth that the buses will make money. So many people depend on mass transit but not enough to make a profit. They are also folks that cannot afford to travel any other way or are forced to take public transportation. Right off the bat I'm sure there are discounts for many of these folks. So tell me how you're going to make a dime off of buses?
It just won't work.
Personally I would pay an extra penny in sales tax to make sure the buses would run.
I take the bus from time to time and I will tell you this city has the worst mass transit system of any I've ever seen.
No buses at night, none on Sunday and certain routes don't run from 11am - 2pm.
If you ask me that's as screwed up as my checkbook is sometimes.

BevBoudreaux
0
Points
BevBoudreaux 10/04/11 - 02:46 am
0
0
Let's make sure we are not

Let's make sure we are not comparing apples to oranges here. Sandy Springs is an affluent bedroom community of Atlanta. It's public transit is provided by the multi jurisdiction MARTA. It doesn't have the many challenges faced by a city like Augusta which has a high percentage of its population living below the poverty line. I don't believe there is a single public housing project anywhere in Sandy Springs. It also doesn't need to invest in many amenities found in larger cities, because it is right next to Atlanta. Perhaps we can learn some lessons from Sandy Springs and I am sure some services can be privatized, but I think it is a mistake to privatize everything just for the sake of privatizing it. In some cases it makes sense, for others not so much. And lets be honest, the purpose of government is not to turn a profit; often it's about providing basic services that just aren't feasible for the private sector to provide, because there just is no profit motive to provide them. Public transit is never going to turn a profit. That's not the point anyway. It's about making sure that the poor, the disabled and the elderly have access to jobs and the ability to function as productive citizens. When any city gets to a certain population thresh hold, there has to be some form of public transit.. it's just another part of the transportation infrastructure.

Brad Owens
4727
Points
Brad Owens 10/04/11 - 03:50 am
0
0
Put together a proposal and

Put together a proposal and let the people vote on funding it.

BevBoudreaux
0
Points
BevBoudreaux 10/04/11 - 04:41 am
0
0
The thing that confuses me

The thing that confuses me about Joe Bowles is that he is so enthusiastic to privatize city services, even when sometimes those services are a legitimate function of a local government. I completely agree with him on privatizing the golf course. To me, cities should not be in the business of owning and operating golf courses. But we have to be careful with privatizing everything because sometimes there could be a conflict of interest with a private company with a vested interest in maximizing their profits making decisions with our tax dollars when they are not accountable to the people, like our government officials are. I just think you have to be very careful with this. But with Bowles is that when it comes to things that should be solely in the realm of private enterprise, such as building risky development projects like TEE Centers and ballparks, he feels that the government should be involved. Seems a little inconsistent to me.

DawgnSC69
286
Points
DawgnSC69 10/04/11 - 07:52 am
0
0
BevB, You stated "It's about

BevB,
You stated "It's about making sure that the poor, the disabled and the elderly have access to jobs and the ability to function as productive citizens."

Those people do not want to work and be productive cictizens. So are you saying that we must continue to provide free handouts?

Taylor B
5
Points
Taylor B 10/04/11 - 08:02 am
0
0
We are going to pay one way

We are going to pay one way or another. A private company has something the government doesnt, and that is profit motive. This motive will cut down on waste and streamline services. Start with the golf course and trash service, and see how that works.

Carleton Duvall
6305
Points
Carleton Duvall 10/04/11 - 08:09 am
0
0
DawgnSC69-Do you expect the

DawgnSC69-Do you expect the disabled and elderly to work?

BevBoudreaux
0
Points
BevBoudreaux 10/04/11 - 08:13 am
0
0
wow Dawg.. so you are saying

wow Dawg.. so you are saying that all the elderly,disabled, and poor are not interested in being productive citizens? Where do you get that from? I guess they should just be allowed to rot in their homes unable to get to jobs, church (well actually busses don't even run on Sunday) and doctor's appointments. So I guess only people who can own and drive a car deserve to be to function in society? That's harsh. So you are saying these people don't want to work but yet you want to cut off their ability to get to work, well that's one way to keep people on the public dole, ensure that there is no way for them to work. How about this, we pay for a lot of road infrastructure with sales taxes, and people who don't even own a car or drive still pay those taxes and help pay for the roads you drive on. So let's make all of the roads toll roads. The roads have to pay for themselves. So if a particular road doesn't generate enough toll revenue; it gets closed down. Now what if that is a road you live on or one you rely on to get to work?

BevBoudreaux
0
Points
BevBoudreaux 10/04/11 - 08:20 am
0
0
I know of many disabled and

I know of many disabled and elderly who do work and rely on public transit to get to those jobs because they are unable to drive themselves. For many people, Social security does not pay enough each month to cover living expenses, so they have to work. They have no choice. The busses are their lifeline. many others volunteer their time. I know of an older lady who volunteers at the VA hospital atleast 4 times a week. It takes her sometimes an hour and half each way to get to the VA by bus. She does not get paid to do this. She volunteers to give back and she enjoys the interaction and the fulfillment. So what should we do, just euthanize anyone who is no longer able to drive a motor vehicle?

joebowles
104
Points
joebowles 10/04/11 - 08:42 am
0
0
Bev, you are confusing

Bev, you are confusing privatization of management to selling the city's assets. We are just asking private entities what they would charge to provide certain services. We will allow our existing Dept. heads to compete with them. If it saves the taxpayers $$$$$$ we owe to our citizens to explore those options.

joebowles
104
Points
joebowles 10/04/11 - 08:44 am
0
0
MrDucks, to address you silly

MrDucks, to address you silly question as you hide behind a fake name, Greg Bowles is a cousin, not my Uncle or brother...I don't see what the issue is here.

BevBoudreaux
0
Points
BevBoudreaux 10/04/11 - 08:54 am
0
0
well Joe that certainly makes

well Joe that certainly makes sense, and I agree in certain cases, contracting services out can improve them and save money. By all means let's explore all options. I'm just saying there needs to be adequate oversight on how these contracts are awarded. Augusta has a long history of nepotism and awarding lucrative city contracts to good-ole-boys with the right connections. So we just need to be sure this is all about saving money and improving efficiency and not away to reward certain individuals who may be so inclined to donate to particular campaigns. And by the way, what happened to the private company that was running the wastewater treatment plant?

seenitB4
90904
Points
seenitB4 10/04/11 - 09:25 am
0
0
Joe...Are you as cute as your

Joe...Are you as cute as your cousin Greg?...:)

Vito45
-2
Points
Vito45 10/04/11 - 09:26 am
0
0
Shrimp for B'Fast, since you

Shrimp for B'Fast, since you use the transit system maybe you can answer a couple of questions for me. Is it even necessary to use full size buses? If ridership does not support what they have, maybe smaller vehicles like the airport shuttles for rental cars or park & ride would be more appropriate. They definitely would be cheaper to purchase and operate.

Brad Owens
4727
Points
Brad Owens 10/04/11 - 09:48 am
0
0
Thanks for answering

Thanks for answering questions Joe. You all are on the right path, just kill the stadium idea and lets move on.

joebowles
104
Points
joebowles 10/04/11 - 10:09 am
0
0
Bev, Good point on the

Bev, Good point on the wastewater plant.... Good example of the "good ole boy" network.
There's another one on the agenda for today....Stay tuned

Shawn M.
0
Points
Shawn M. 10/04/11 - 10:13 am
0
0
The public/private

The public/private partnership in Sandy Springs is extremely efficient and a huge cost saver. I'm glad to see some of Augusta's commissioner's voluntarily educating themselves in areas that can greatly assist them in the future decision making process. For a great overview of how things in Sandy Springs are working (and how the residents there love it), visit: http://reason.com/blog/2011/04/12/reasontv-sandy-springs-georgia

Dipshot
-5
Points
Dipshot 10/04/11 - 11:41 am
0
0
That's good to know Shawn,

That's good to know Shawn, but it is true that Augusta and Sandy Springs are very different. I know because I used to live in Sandy Springs. What may work in Sandy Springs may not work in Augusta and vice versa, but I think we need to look at what they have been doing right there and see if we can learn from it and perhaps duplicate some of that success here. We also should remember that Sandy Springs is a relatively new city. Less than a decade ago it was just a suburban part unincorporated Fulton County. They had tried to incorporate for years because they feared being annexed by Atlanta.

showboat
348
Points
showboat 10/04/11 - 11:44 am
0
0
why all commissioners didn't
Unpublished

why all commissioners didn't go on this trip? Jhonsom got hooked up because a little bird told him about it. watch Joe and his friend. Joe left Paine college in a mess when he was fired!!!!

Riverman1
86999
Points
Riverman1 10/04/11 - 01:14 pm
0
0
Augusta government is the

Augusta government is the antithesis of the Sandy Springs city government. The anti-Christ to them.

Dipshot
-5
Points
Dipshot 10/04/11 - 01:55 pm
0
0
Looks like Sandy Springs is

Looks like Sandy Springs is on to something here, but they did have the luxury to start from scratch and avoid getting entangled in all of the entrenched special interests and cronyism that most cities suffer with. I also find it ironic that the company that they contracted with to manage most city operations is CH2M HILL. Didn't they used to manage the wastewater treatment facility here in Augusta but their contract was not renewed?

joebowles
104
Points
joebowles 10/04/11 - 08:04 pm
0
0
Dipshot, yes they did.

Dipshot, yes they did. However Sandy Springs has 7 contractors now and others on retainer in case of poor performance of the prime. This way they don't go through the process of re-bidding if a contractor performs poorly.....They also went from paying 25 million last year to 18 million for the 2011-2012, beginning 7/11. The expert told me that we could expect at least a 10% saving for any Gov't department....That is pretty close to exactly the % we saved with the golf course and Transit....

BevBoudreaux
0
Points
BevBoudreaux 10/04/11 - 08:22 pm
0
0
This certainly sounds like

This certainly sounds like something worth studying if it can bring savings and increase efficiency. My only reservation is that these private companies may not be subject to Georgia's open records laws... but then the city law department stonewalls those laws all the time. May I suggest that the first city department you all need to contract out is the in-house legal dept.

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