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NORTH BATTLEFORD: The union representing municipal workers in North Battleford is urging the city to strongly reject a proposal to enter into a public private partnership to build a new sewage treatment plant.

U.S. Filter Canada, which is owned by the French multinational company Vivendi Water, approached the City of North Battleford with the proposal this spring. The city is currently discussing various ways of financing the construction of a new sewage treatment plant.

CUPE Local 287, which represents 123 municipal workers including sewer and water plant operators, will outline their concerns in a presentation of a brief to the next meeting of North Battlefords city council on Monday, June 17 at 7:30 p.m.

We feel it is extremely important to provide city council with information about the dangers of public private partnerships, said Barb Plews, president of CUPE Local 287. We dont want the community to lose control of such a vital resource like water to a huge multinational corporation that is more interested in reaping profits than in providing good, clean drinking water.

The unions brief points out that economists and provincial auditors have found that public private partnerships do not in fact save governments money, but often end up costing more because of higher private sector borrowing costs, hidden costs and the need to produce profits for shareholders. While public private partnerships result in a loss of public accountability, governments are still responsible for costly upgrades of plants and any environmental disasters that may occur. The brief also notes that governments are still saddled with long-term debt and financial risks in such arrangements.

Plews said the union is raising its concerns now because U.S. Filter has a history of making unsolicited bids to municipalities.

The city of Moncton, New Brunswick signed a contract with U.S. Filter to finance, build and operate a new water treatment plant for a 20-year period. The deal was supposed to save Moncton ratepayers $12 million in capital, engineering and operating costs over the term of the agreement, but the public private partnership actually ended up costing $14.5 million more than if the city had financed the project itself. Moncton and area residents are also paying much higher water fees under the new arrangement.

Public facilities should stay in public hands, said Plews. Our members and families live and work in the community. We have an obvious interest in ensuring the provision of good, clean drinking water to the citizens of North Battleford who are our neighbours.

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For more information contact Barb Plews at 445-6606.