Worth another look Featured

9:43am EDT July 22, 2002

Imagine a city where the mayor manages to save taxpayer dollars — hundreds of millions of them — and creates a boon for private business.

That city exists. It’s called Indianapolis. And as much as I hate making comparisons between Columbus and that Indy car mecca to our west, we do share many demographic similarities — and they’re lapping us for at least the ninth time now on government efficiency. Their secret? Privatization.

When Mayor Lashutka was in office here, he “studied” privatization of some city services and decided it just wasn’t right for Columbus. His reasoning: Citizen satisfaction might not be as high with private companies providing services such as trash collection, lawn care and building inspections.

He offered no concrete evidence to support his conclusion, and his argument didn’t hold much water, in my opinion. After all, private companies know they’re in competition for business, and if they don’t deliver adequate service as set forth in the terms of a city contract, they know someone else will be hired who can and will meet the city’s expectations. It’s that simple.

Mike Coleman seems like a logical man. He also seems like a mayor who’s willing to take initiative and try something different. Privatization could be that something — and it could make him a hero.

In the past eight years, the mayor of Indianapolis has put more than 70 city services up for bid. Coleman doesn’t have to be that aggressive. He could simply pick two or three city services that could stand to be improved anyway and give the private sector a shot at outperforming and underpricing city workers.

For those concerned with widespread unemployment of city workers, don’t fret. A private company accepting a contract to service an area as big as the City of Columbus would, in all likelihood, need additional workers to satisfy that contract. What more logical way to fulfill that need for extra employees than to hire many of the city workers whose jobs might be lost through privatization of that service. They’re already trained, after all, and they know the city’s expectations for service.

I’m not saying privatization is the way to go with every city service. I doubt very seriously a privately run police force would fly with citizens. But there are city functions that could be performed more efficiently and less expensively by specialized businesses. That’s why this concept is worth another look.

I’m hopeful Mayor Coleman will give it at least that — if not a trial run — in the months to come. I know our Central Ohio businesses would do him proud.

Nancy Byron (nbyron@sbnnet.com) is editor of SBN Columbus.