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Wichita City Council To Hear Utility Partnership Proposal

Courtesy of City of Wichita

The Wichita City Council will hear a proposal on Tuesday about a utility partnership that could help determine which projects in the water and sewer system need to be addressed first. The proposal will also explore alternative financing. KMUW’s Carla Eckels talks with Wichita Public Works and Utility’s Ben Nelson about the plan.

What is the utility partnership?

"The utility partnership is a project we’re considering right now that would be a two-phase project. The first phase would last for probably 12 to 18 months, and it would involve us contracting with some engineering and some finance experts to look at our utility system--specifically our water and sewer utilities to put in place something called asset management, where they help us to develop a prioritized list of infrastructure upgrades and also consider alternative financing and develop a package for us to figure out whether it makes sense to enter a longer-term Phase Two with that company.

"It'll help us understand what projects should we do more immediately and if there is a way to do more of those projects sooner so that we can have a more reliable utility system without raising rates for anything more than what we’ve already quoted to city council over the past few years."

What about saving the city money is that something you are looking at?

"That’s part of this project. We’re going to have an operational review where these engineering and finance experts are going to come and look at our day to day operations and see if there’s any way to generate operational savings.

"Now two things that we are not contemplating as part of that: We've got some questions from folks wondering if this is an effort to privatize the utilities, outsource jobs or to sell off utility assets. None of those things are in play. Our mayor, our city council, and our city manager emphasized that strongly that we’re not looking to cut costs through privatizing jobs, or selling off the utility assets. In fact, when we went to seek proposals for this particular project, we put a safeguard in place in the request for proposals. I’ll quote the RFP in that we explicitly said that the city will not forfeit any governance of the utility and will retain ownership over the assets, the rate structure, and the operations.

"There’s no intent to privatize, there’s no intent to outsource jobs. If it makes sense for us to reduce our operating expenses, I don’t know exactly what that would look like, but it’s not privatization so we're going to take a look at that as well."

Click "Listen" to hear the rest of the interview. 

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Carla Eckels is assistant news director and the host of Soulsations. Follow her on Twitter @Eckels.

To contact KMUW News or to send in a news tip, reach us at news@kmuw.org.

Carla Eckels is Director of Organizational Culture at KMUW. She produces and hosts the R&B and gospel show Soulsations and brings stories of race and culture to The Range with the monthly segment In the Mix. Carla was inducted into The Kansas African American Museum's Trailblazers Hall of Fame in 2020 for her work in broadcast/journalism.