By JESSICA GUYNN
Local officials may hire private companies to provide public services, such as transportation and park maintenance, in response to the expected population boom following the Salt Lake olympics.
Mayors from around the state met Monday to discuss the population burst they say the 2002 Winter Games are sure to bring to Utah, and how to deal with it.
The Salt Lake City Council expects 300,000 visitors at the Olympics in 2002, doubling the city’s population. Officials expect the number of visitors and residents to continue to grow rapidly around the state, along with the need for city services.
Mayor Stephen Goldsmith of Indianapolis, Indiana, lectured the mayors on privatization, contracting private companies to provide services traditionally funded by tax dollars.
Goldsmith said privatization provides competition and makes government services cheaper and better, because city employees know that if they don’t do the job well, there is someone else willing to do it better. He encouraged politicians to treat their constituents as customers, and said when the government has a monopoly, it is less sensitive to its customers’ needs.
According to Goldsmith, “Every citizen of the U.S., like it or not, is a captive customer for government services — and a new customer is born every few seconds. Poorer Americans are particularly captive, as they must rely on services such as public transportation and public schools.”
Those in attendance asked Goldsmith questions about the success of Indianapolis, a city about the same size as Salt Lake City, that has saved $230 million in the past five years by contracting private businesses to run city programs such as waste-water management, transportation and sanitation.
Provo Mayor Lewis Billings said Provo has already started privatizing some government services. “Provo has been growing a great deal, and we were finding that we were always out of money. We decided to try privatization and contracted a private company to construct the Olympic ice rink currently being built. We like it, because if costs go over budget or construction falls behind, the company, not the taxpayers, has to pay the costs,” said Billings.
While many Utah mayors are in favor of limited privatization, Billings said if government employees do their jobs efficiently, there is usually not a need to hire private companies.
Jerry M. Young, director of communications at the Sutherland Institute, an organization that conducts public policy research, said in preparation for the Olympics and population growth, “services can be improved and taxes lowered by introducing privatization.”
While most in attendance were supporters of privatization, Billings warned that “privatization has its proper place in government and should only be used as needed.”
He said the jobs of city employees should be protected if they perform well.