The city should consider privatizing its ambulance service, reducing survivors’ pension benefits, turning over libraries and other operations to the county, taking one firefighter off each truck, requiring employees to pay more for health insurance, imposing a blight tax on neglected foreclosed homes and scrapping cost-of-living allowances to pensioners, according to a list of suggestions sent to Mayor Annise Parker by an advisory group Tuesday.
The Texas Department of Transportation said Feb. 8 that it is gearing up for a $1.4 billion expansion of the Grand Parkway, or State Highway 99, with 37 miles of new toll road in north Houston, and will look to award a design-and-build contract to some in the private sector….Texas will retain ownership of the project, but the contract includes rights to design and build, and possibly finance, operate and maintain the highway.
…Across the state, a growing number of suburban Texans are getting their water from large, private corporations owned by investors seeking to profit off the sale of an essential resource. State figures show private companies are seeking more price increases every year, and many are substantial.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which regulates water and sewer rates for nonmunicipal customers, doesn’t keep numbers, but “their rate increases tend to be 40 and 60 percent,” said Doug Holcomb, who oversees the agency’s water utilities division. …
Litigation continues between the City of Houston and the company that provided red light cameras over whether the city is liable for breaking the contract to turn the cameras off.
Houston City Council put the brakes on red light cameras for good back in August. But a legal fight followed with American Traffic Solutions, the manufacturer of the cameras, over breach of contract claims. ATS is seeking $25 million in damages from the city.
After Red Light Cameras Are Turned Off, Houston City Council Approves Big Settlement With Vendor
Source: Gail Delaughter, Transportation Nation, February 8, 2012
For more than a year before the state canceled its $144 million contract with an engineering firm it had hired to handle more than $1 billion in federal hurricane disaster relief grants, state managers warned that the firm, HNTB, had radically overspent its budget and should be relieved of most of its duties.
In the end, it was some of those same supervisors at the Texas Department of Rural Affairs who were fired and HNTB that carried on “full steam ahead,” in the words of one of the supervisors….
…In February, Rural Affairs Executive Director Charlie Stone laid off his disaster recovery division — about 35 employees, almost all of them earning a fraction of the salaries the government was paying HNTB — and outsourced their work to the contractor…..
…HNTB is a Kansas City-based company with deep ties to Gov. Rick Perry’s administration, having given close to a half-million dollars to the Republican Governors Association, which Perry formerly led. It was the lead consultant for Perry’s proposed (and eventually abandoned) Trans-Texas Corridor highway project.
Outside contractor pushed to outsource disaster recovery program
Source: Brenda Bell, American-Statesman, November 19, 2011
Kean Register…has now served in the top city job for a year. During that time, he has cut 36 jobs from the payroll, half of which had their duties outsourced to private companies….
The public works and water departments were combined, with the water department director taking over the duties of the director of public works. Jobs were cut in communications, streets and drainage, engineering, facilities, solid waste and fleet services… By hiring a contractor to do tree trimming he cut two jobs, by outsourcing right of way mowing he cut eight jobs, and by outsourcing custodial work he cut another eight jobs….
…But District 2 Councilman Paul Madison has expressed displeasure with the lost jobs. “These are employees that live in the city of Bryan,” he said. “They have decent jobs and when you outsource you have organizations coming in that probably don’t provide any benefits and the workers go from being productive citizens to survival mode.”
The new workers may also be less reliable, he said. American Facilities Services, the Georgia-based company that won the contract to handle custodial services, notified the city on the day it was to begin work that it wouldn’t be showing up. The city then had to wait until the next council meeting to hire the second-place bidder…..
Cash-strapped cities and local governments across the country, having privatized services such as trash collection and prison operations in efforts to make up budget shortfalls, are increasingly eyeing another service as a prime candidate for outsourcing: the neighborhood library.
To save money, counties and cities in California, Kansas, Oregon, Tennessee and Texas have outsourced much of their operations to Library Systems & Services LLC….
Local leaders in Stockton, Calif., considered privatizing but ultimately decided against it, in part because of concerns raised by city residents, Ms. Raphael said.
Those misgivings may have been driven by controversies in Fargo, N.D., and Jersey City, N.J., along with other communities that signed contracts with LSSI only to terminate them early. In Fargo, the library board voted in 2003 to cancel the two-year deal after just eight months, citing concerns about mounting bills, according to the trade publication Library Journal.
HOUSTON — Houston became the latest U.S. city to turn off its red-light traffic cameras on Wednesday, less than a month after Los Angeles did the same, in a move that camera opponents said reflects a gradual nationwide trend to abandon the devices….. [M]ore than 500 municipalities — including New York, Washington and other large cities — still use them….More than a dozen cities now ban the cameras, as do nine states. …Company spokesman Charles Territo said American Traffic Solutions still has 300 towns and cities as customers, including New York, Washington, New Orleans, Kansas City and 80 communities in Florida. And the Scottsdale, Ariz.,-based company expects to set another record in 2011 for new camera installations.
A San Antonio woman was sentenced Wednesday to more than two years in prison for her role in a child-support scam. …. Cervera, 29, was among 14 people involved in a scheme to divert money meant for Texas child-support recipients. Seven of them worked for Affiliated Computer Services. The 14 are accused of taking advantage of ACS’ state contract to issue debit cards to Texans who are due child support.
The Bill Clayton Detention Center, a $10 million prison that’s been sitting empty for the last two years while a town struggles to pay off its construction debt, sold at auction last week for $6 million. Littlefield City Manager Danny Davis told the Texas Independent he could not disclose the name of the buyer until the sale closes within about 30 days, but said the winning bidder was a group he wasn’t familiar with. Presumably, though, that would rule out GEO Group, the private prison operator that pulled out of its contract to run the prison in 2009….GEO Group housed inmates from Wyoming, and then Idaho, in the Clayton facility after that, but in the wake of apparent mismanagement — including a prison break police said was aided by guards, and an inmate’s suicide — the prison was left empty while the town raised taxes and fees to pay the bills….