Small-town Oklahoma residents find privatization of services not so shiny, sparkly:
Slezickey says Burrell Inc. reads electric, gas and water meters. The city contracted with that company six years ago, but this Spring, Slezickey says the company downsized and inconsistencies started.
“Shortly after that, they were late getting some of the books to us,” said Slezickey.
We called Burrell to ask what caused the high bills. No one returned our messages.
“My assumption is they were estimated instead of being read,” said Slezickey.
Whoever estimated Smith’s bill says she used 575 units of water in one month. Based on records, she uses that much in a year and a half.
“I allotted $50 to $100 for this bill. I don’t have $813.75 nowhere. Turn it off. I don’t know what else to do,” said Smith.
One of the reasons you don’t want vital public services privatized is because the private sector deals in a naturally fluctuating economy. When the economy is struggling or things happen affecting a private company’s operational budget, they start cutting corners. They’re not going to cut their profit margin, so quality is inevitably going to suffer. And when you’re dealing with services like trash pickup or reading water and gas meters, it’s not as easy as just switching which brand of detergent you buy.
Here in Nashville the company that had provided our trash services, PDQ Disposal, got bought by the regional behemoth Waste Industries, which has been on a buying spree around the Southeast. Since then our service has declined noticeably: for the first time in 12 years our entire neighborhood was overlooked on trash pickup day. After two days of wondering what the heck happened and fielding calls from neighbors I finally had to call them and tell them they’d forgotten a 5-block area.
I also have had a running battle with the guy who empties the dumpster at the church in my neighborhood. After repeatedly violating the noise ordinance by emptying the dumpster at 4, 5 or 6 a.m., I called the superivsor for our area and had to actually show them the city ordinance that says you can’t empty a dumpster before 7 a.m. in residential neighborhoods. They actually didn’t believe me!
But that wasn’t the end of it. Nooo. The guy still came at 6 a.m., and when I talked to him about it he sneered and said, “why do you care? You’re obviously awake at this time!” Now, just to be a dick, he’ll sometimes park his big truck in the church parking lot for 20 minutes or more, engine running and diesel exhaust belching into the air, until the clock hits 7 a.m. Then he’ll empty the dumpster, doing extra banging and clanging. Again, just to be a dick.
Yeah, remind me why I’m supposed to be happy my tax dollars are paying this asshole’s salary.
Anyway, I got a little far afield here. The point is, when these companies contract for city services they agree to a set amount of money upfront. But the world is always changing, and inevitably something is gonna happen, be it a downsizing or getting bought by a competitor or whatever. When that happens someone always suffers and it’s usually us customers.