The St. Louis Water Division has inked a new, five-year consulting contract with a private utility service company called Veolia, and some department employees are less than thrilled with the news.
The city has made no formal announcement and the contract is still in "negotiation" according to a city spokesperson, but according to internal memos, Veolia won in a competitive bidding process that began late this summer.
A worker who spoke to Daily RFT under condition of anonymity says the Veolia contract has renewed fears inside the department of layoffs and a private takeover of the utility.
"This Veolia company is just bad news if you look at their track record," said the employee.
Veolia is based in France and the world's largest private water services company. Two years ago, Veolia made headlines in St. Louis just for touring the facility. The timing of the visit, soon after the release of a report by the Show-Me Institute recommending that the city's public water utility be privatized to save money, raised eyebrows and anxiety levels within the water district. At the time Mayor Francis Slay's office brushed off privatization rumors, though Chief of Staff Jeff Rainford did say that an outside entity might be brought in at some point to "help us with both sides of the ledger."
It appears that time has come.
The city issued an RFP (request for proposals) on July 27 for the consulting work. The listing in the City Journal read, "The St. Louis Water Division is seeking a Consultant with expertise in water system operations to provide insight and new ideas, programs and approaches on ways to increase the Water Division's efficiency and revenues and/possibly postpone or lessen future water rate increases while maintaining or improving customer satisfaction." The company Black & Veatch was tapped to handle the RFP. Though the Kansas City-based firm is also a private water engineering company, the city gave them a $245,100 contract just to help lead the search.
This past March water division employees received a memo from Water Commissioner Curtis Skouby entitled "Outside assistance." The memo acknowledged the search for a consulting company, characterized it as a cost-saving measure, and made the following four bulleted promises:
- To continue to own and operate the utility
- That there will be no layoffs
- All union representation of employees will remain
- To keep you informed as the work proceeds
"My commitment to you is that you will known information as it is available and that you will be part of the process," the memo concludes.
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