Lawmaker wants to force cities to let private firms bid for services - East Valley Tribune: Arizona

Lawmaker wants to force cities to let private firms bid for services

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Posted: Friday, February 4, 2011 2:30 am

A Southern Arizona lawmaker wants to force the state's largest cities to let private companies bid to provide services, with an eye on extending that to all communities and counties -- and eventually the state itself.

Sen. Frank Antenori, R-Tucson, figures the requirements could put at least $1 billion worth of business up for bid. And he figures that, in many cases, private companies can do the job for less than taxpayers are now shelling out for municipal workers.

Nothing in SB 1322 would actually require a city to accept a bid and turn over any function to a private company.

But it would force cities to annually disclose to residents the amount of the bid, how much the city now spends, and why city officials decided not to opt for the lower cost alternative. Antenori figures that will create sufficient pressure on city officials to look seriously at farming out some of the services.

Under the bill, "core services'' would be exempt. He said that includes not just police and fire but also 911 emergency dispatch, city courts and tax collections.

But he said there are already private companies doing some of the other services now performed by city workers using city equipment, supplies and facilities.

For example, Antenori said there is no reason why cities should not consider having private companies maintain municipal vehicles. Similarly, he said functions ranging from computer services to ground maintenance might be better -- and more cheaply -- handled by an outside firm.

He said that's the way it is already at many large private firms who contract out certain services rather than trying to do them in-house.

The plan has the backing of Farrell Quinlan, director of the Arizona chapter of the National Federation of Independent business.

"We think we can do a lot of the non-core functions of city government,'' he said. "Our members are ready to make those bids.''

Antenori said the initial plan is to have the legislation apply only to cities of at least 200,000. That would take in Chandler, Gilbert, Glendale, Mesa, Phoenix, Scottsdale and Tucson. He said the money they now spend on these non-core services would be freed up to support private companies that would do the job for less.

What farming out some services also would do is result in cities laying off the employees who do the work now. Antenori said that doesn't bother him if the work can be done for less, as he is convinced will be the case.

"Some of those state and city employees out there have been there for a long time,'' he said. "Many of these people have, let's be honest here, very lucrative deals that quite frankly create a bloated government and are a drain on the taxpayer.''

Ken Strobeck, executive director of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, said what Antenori wants will make government more complex. "And I'm not sure that's going to result in anything that's better for the taxpayers.''

He also said that many cities in Arizona have been recognized nationally as among the best run in the nation.

"So I'm really not sure what the problem is, why we would need something like this,'' he said.

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