Plans to privatize water down the drain

Plans to privatize water down the drain

SCITUATE – To the relief of many Scituate residents, Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza’s plans to privatize the Providence Water Supply Board went down the drain as he pulled supporting legislation on Thursday, April 4.

Town Councilor Tim McCormick, council liaison to the PWSB, said the move is clearly positive for the town and he was not surprised that the bill was pulled.

“I don’t think it had a lot of support,” McCormick said.

While he believes it is positive news, McCormick said it is time for Scituate to come up with a long-term solution to prevent Elorza or any future mayor from attempting to privatize the water supply again.

Elorza said the city has no future plans to peruse selling the water supply as a way to fund a $1.1 billion unfunded pension liability.

“It’s another risk we’ll have to address. This thing is not done by any stretch” McCormick said.

McCormick said as the liaison, his goal is to create a positive working relationship with the PWSB, which pays for approximately 20 percent of the town’s tax base.

With upcoming negotiations between the town and the PWSB for payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, around the corner, McCormick said it is crucial to have a seat at the table. He said he is trying to create a strong working relationship with PWSB.

“That’s why I’m going to monthly board meetings,” McCormick said.

Taxpayers increased the town budget to $75,000 to pay for professional legal services to assist in PILOT negotiations at the Financial Town Meeting on Tuesday, April 2.

Micheal Marcello, the author of an extensive PWSB report written for the town, said in an online post that the change in direction is good news for the town.

He said the town’s presence at the various forums and questions asked of Providence officials reminded them “we are more than just the host of the reservoir, but in many ways stewards as well.”

The Narragansett Bay Commission had expressed interest in purchasing the water supply in the Scituate Reservoir, which sends water to various communities through the PWSB. The value of the supply, which brings water to about 60 percent of the state, has been pegged at about $400 million.

Though there has been talk around town about Scituate purchasing or leasing the PWSB, McCormick said it is not something the town is pursuing and it is something he finds “hard to envision.”

The PWSB is prohibited from making a profit off its sale of the water to other cities and towns.

“Anyone who takes it off city of Providence will face some pressure to get return on their investment,” McCormick said, adding the Public Utilities Commission is not likely to place the burden on the ratepayers.

Elorza conceded last week that the plan had many roadblocks in the way of actually pulling it off, noting the concerns expressed on finances, logistics and the environment, among others.

Elorza said the city will need to take collective ownership of the pension and look at a statewide effort to fix the city’s underfunded pension plans.

“This will require us speaking with a collective voice,” Elorza said.

The Providence Water Supply Board serves customers in Providence, North Providence, Cranston, Johnston and parts of Smithfield.