Privatize, don’t consolidate
January 31, 2012
Responding to County Commissioner Lee Bonner’s editorial (Consolidation of water companies about the community, R-C Jan. 25): Canadian author Mark Steyn has been warning Americans that once socialized medicine gets a toe-hold, it never goes away. Instead, the lumpen bureacratariat will debate endlessly with their constituents about how to “reform” the monster they’ve created – make it fairer, more equitable, less expensive. “Reform” will mean everything except what it should mean – privatize.
Commissioner Bonner’s main argument in favor of water district consolidation is actually its weakness. He equates the county’s operation of water utilities with other legitimate government functions, like law enforcement. With respect, the commissioner has the cart before the horse. Only in the relatively recent past did county politicians agree to take on the management of faulty water districts. This created a problem that Commissioner Bonner argues that ratepayers in some – but not all – water districts are ex post facto obligated to share. But if water delivery were just another government function, like law enforcement, why maintain a fictitious relationship between cost and usage? As Mr. Bonner says, no one gets charged by the visit when they call the sheriff. By that logic, water delivery should be paid for from the general fund. Then someone can notify those blameless taxpayers who get water from their own wells that we’re all in this together. Insert smiley emoticon here.
We have five entrepreneurial county commissioners needlessly constraining their free market expertise by trying to solve this problem from inside the monkey suit of government. Picture King Kong holding “healthy” water districts in one hand and “troubled” districts in the other. King Kong’s only remedy for fixing the problem water districts is to use the blunt instrument of government force to smash his hands together to combine them. The commissioners should instead be using their entrepreneurial expertise to extract the county from the water utility business.
Commissioner Bonner’s proposal differs from the last go-around with consolidation only in that there would be two mega-districts instead of one. Consolidation 2.0 is condemned to produce ungrateful winners and bitter losers who will queue up as Mark Steyn suggests, petitioning the county mandarins for revenue shifts, reductions, and increases in an elusive search for “fairness.”
As Jack Van Dien has argued in these pages, the county should vigorously pursue privatizing the water districts. Perhaps county staff could dig out the gold-plated consultant’s report from the last consolidation go-around, the one that cost 40,000 tax dollars, to see if it might offer some clues as to how this might be accomplished.
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Ratepayers, particularly those in problem districts, would have more market power to affect rates and service as customers of a private enterprise than they do as minority voters. I commend Mr. Van Dien’s idea to the commissioners and beg them to give it a serious look. The politicians inserted county government into the water business; they should get government out of it.