Privatization is the name of the municipal game these days

We’ve talked before at Back Talk about the wisdom of privatizing city services in an effort to either improve operational efficiency or save operating money — or sometimes both. Privatizing the Dallas Zoo is just one such instance, and we’ll see whether turning the zoo over to a private owner with a pretty substantial subsidy ends the city’s relationship with the zoo or simply postpones a day or reckoning until later.

A DMN story over the weekend discusses this issue, as well as looks at what other cities such as Plano (outsourcing the city’s print shop and a recreation center) are considering privatizing in response to budget problems similar to those here in Dallas.

And the story begs the question: What else could/should Dallas consider privatizing?

During the four years I was a member of the city’s Commission on Productivity and Innovation (the commission was disbanded when staff funding to operate it disappeared in this year’s budget), we looked at privatizing sanitation truck maintenance, parking meter collections, WRR and other ideas. A few ideas came to partial fruition, but most just didn’t have the necessary political backing, because unlike making decisions at a private business, every business decision made by a city invariably is driven by politics. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, or both, I’ll leave to you.

But if I was going to start looking at privatizing city services, I’d start with these aspects: pothole and street repairs, operation of Fair Park (outside of the State Fair, of course) and operation of city park and recreation facilities.

The biggest problem, regardless of which city service you select to privatize, is wading through the contractual red tape required by the city to finalize a privatization process. At times, from my observation, the legal contracts and various performance hoops the city requires a potential privatization partner to jump through seemed designed to make the private company walk away from the deal, leaving the city squarely in charge.

Ultimately, the city needs to ditch more of its services (see above), find a way to make additional revenue on others (we would have more vibrant and better-maintained park and rec programs if users had to pay even a couple of bucks a week to use them) and simply quit giving away money for deals that are private already (Southwest Mall, for example) and may never really stand on their own.

The current budget problems make this the perfect time to damn the politics and move full-speed ahead.


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