About a month ago, the Petal Board of Aldermen voted to enter into contract negotiations with ClearWater Solutions of Auburn, Alabama, regarding the privatization of the city’s Public Works Department, which would see the company come in to assume the duties of that department.
On Monday, that was made official when aldermen agreed to begin that contract on October 1, which also marks the beginning of the Fiscal Year 2022-2023 Fiscal Year. The city took a similar measure several years back, when it privatized its trash pickup through Waste Pro, which currently handles that service.
“Between now and the first of next week, (Clearwater), they’ll be talking and evaluating our personnel, and talking money,” Mayor Tony Ducker said.
The issue of privatizing the Public Works Department has been discussed for approximately a year, when city officials said one of the benefits of privatization is that it would take some of the pressure off the city as far as health insurance rates.
“Our (Public Employees Retirement System), we pay 17.4 percent on that, which kind of hurts us,” Ducker said in a previous story. “And we’ve noticed over the last year or so that we’re losing people that are going into construction and other jobs that are just able to pay more.
“So the privatization could be a good thing for some of the employees, because they would get a pay increase. It’s tough when you’re paying folks $15 and $16 and hour, and other municipalities and private entities are paying $19 to $22 an hour.”
Mike Trest, who serves as the current director of the public works department, said the privatization with Clearwater also would help the department to run more efficiently.
“City employees – and you know this – sometimes have a tendency of goofing off, Trest said. “Trying to punish a city employee – you’ve got to write them up, bring them before the board – with this company here, if you’re goofing off and don’t want to do your job, you’re gone.
“And that’s a good thing – these guys, all I’ve asked them to do is come in here and give me a day’s work. Yes, I’ve got equipment problems, but this company has a plan of action and they go around and do this everywhere. We get a plan of action going, get things lined up … and work these things out, with cleaning some of these ditches and other things that need to be done, I think we’re going to go somewhere.”
As far as how billing would be handled when ClearWater takes over the Public Works Department, it is likely the city would continue that measure as it does now. Current employees of the department will get first dibs on jobs with the new company when privatization happens.
“The contract says that everyone that’s currently employed will get priority hiring,” Trest said. So everybody that’s working has the opportunity (to get on with this endeavor).”
In addition, ClearWater would take over operations of the city’s vehicles and equipment, meaning that company would pay for oil, maintenance and other matters of that nature.
“They’re going to come in and help us get caught up – they’re not going to do all of it now, don’t get me wrong, (but) we have a lot to go,” Trest said.
Steve Womack, who serves as client manager for ClearWater Solutions, will be responsible for the privatization contract.
“Currently, we have four cities in Mississippi – Gautier, Moss Point, Horn Lake and Petal,” Womack said. “So a lot of cities are doing this, because they can’t keep employees because the turnover rate is so high. The city is just not getting the bang for their buck, so that’s why they hire us as a professional management company.
“The (board) can kind of hold us accountable to make sure these things get done. There’s so many things changing with the (Environmental Protection Agency), the (Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality), a lot of new regulations coming into play. So it’s going to have to be professionally managed and maintained.”