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East County Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2011 6 years ago

My View: Privatization future is here

by: Rod Thomson

The debate over whether Lakewood Ranch should incorporate into a city has had one great benefit for the rest of the region: highlighting the value of outsourcing for everyone.

As part of a summer-long series of reports on the consequences of becoming a city or remaining unincorporated, the East County Observer reported on three other Florida cities that had incorporated, outlining their experiences.

Wellington was the most traditional, doing everything in-house except law enforcement, which it outsourced to the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office. Bonita Springs outsources about half of its city operations and has a tax rate lower than unincorporated Lee County.

But the most illustrative city was Weston, a city of 62,000 residents in Broward County. Weston operates on a $100 million budget. It has 14 city parks, a nice, new City Hall building, the full range of law enforcement, fire and rescue, zoning and community services common to any city.

But it has a grand total of nine employees. Nine. Cities such as Sarasota, struggling with huge pension costs and ballooning employee benefits, dealing with difficult unions and so on — plus all the spine operations to handle those issues — should be envious of Weston’s arrangement. Those headaches and cost containment responsibilities belong to the private-sector companies to which Weston outsources.

All nine employees are directors of a city department. But in reality, they are contract control agents overseeing 30 major private contractors that handle everything in the city down to the receptionist at City Hall.

The result of this outsourcing is that Weston has the lowest tax rate of any municipality in Broward County. Further, a recent study for Broward County found that when all taxes, fees and other governmental assessments on citizens are combined, Weston is the least expensive place in the county to live — as far as paying for government expenses go.

And Money magazine named it “One of America’s Best Small Cities” in 2008, one of only three Florida cities.

While Weston is a wealthy city with no inner-city issues and no legacy costs, the outsourcing principles remain true for many operations in any city, and more are finding it to be true.

Local governments are privatizing public parking, golf courses, zoos, libraries, roads, custodial services, judicial security, solid-waste collection, recycling, convention centers and park maintenance, to name a few. Hard-core union city Detroit has re-written its anti-privatization charter to start outsourcing that city’s services.

Even the slow-moving Leviathan federal government doubled its outsourcing activities between 2001-2008 to more than $500 billion. Union-backed politicians in D.C. have unsuccessfully tried to undo that trend. Privatizing more government functions is the future.

And it is certainly the future for forward-looking governments intent on providing an affordable, high quality of life for all their citizens, not just unions and government employees.

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