DETROIT — In a Sept. 29 point/counterpoint in the Detroit News’ Sunday edition, Michigan State Rep. Leon Drolet, R-33rd district, debated John E. Mogk, a law professor at Wayne State University, over whether Detroit should share control of its water board with surrounding suburbs. While neither argued for total privatization of the system (which has become so costly and inefficient, virtually no one is denying the need for change) both offered proposals that could utilize privatization at some level.
Drolet makes the case for adding suburban representation to the Detroit water system, which now serves 4 million people, with less than 1 million of them actually living in Detroit. He claims the 3 million suburban customers are effectively held hostage to the whims of the Detroit Water Board, which has been passing along large cost increases to suburban customers. Those customers and public officials rightfully feel as though they face a form of taxation without representation.
Appointing officials from the suburbs to the Board would be fairer. And if officials in the suburbs could wrest control from the city they might have a better chance at privatizing the system to some degree — either by outsourcing management of the system, or by selling it outright, which is the position Drolet’s debate opponent takes.
John Mogk argues that Detroit needs to have neither suburban control, nor urban control — but a “regional authority” to whom the city can sell the entire system. He also offers as an alternative, selling the system to a private company and just letting it be regulated “as a state-regulated private utility.”
First, “regionalization” of the water system would effectively turn it into a quasi-governmental agency regulated by officials from Detroit and the suburbs, which is effectively what Drolet argued for in the first place. The debate between the two men at this point is largely a matter of semantics. Selling off the system is where the men differ in their debate.
Michigan Privatization Report has recommended selling off the Detroit water system in the past and even estimated a sales price between $1.7 billion and $2.8 billion. The advantages: Privatization would result in substantial savings to the city; would create a new source of revenue, since its owners would pay substantial property and income taxes; and would eliminate any costs to the city for repairs and upkeep.