Privatization isn't the way to fix water system

Carol Park appears to take it as an article of faith that privatization would make the city's water system better (“It’s not too late to privatize Baltimore’s water system; here’s why we should,” Oct. 21). She quotes someone who says, "Private utilities simply borrow the money to build new water supply pipelines or treatment plants when they need them....” This seems to imply the city is incapable of borrowing, which is obviously not the case.

She says few government officials have expertise in designing upgrades. Of course they don't. This is why they hire engineering contractors. She talks about environmental safety and drags in the water fountains in the city schools, which are irrelevant, because lead pipes in buildings are the responsibility of the owners, not the water utility, and would still be there even if the utility were privatized. And finally, she proposes a kind of psuedo-privatization involving short-term contracts which would almost certainly work against the kind of investment she had previously suggested private companies are supposed to be good at, promoting attempts to milk the system while they had it without doing anything to sustain or improve it.

What Ms. Park avoids mentioning is that private companies are in business to make a profit, and their profit, from the customers' standpoint, is an added cost. Moreover, businesses acknowledge no responsibility to customers who are too poor to pay their rates but simply cut them off without regard to the personal or public health consequences of that action. The city government has a responsibility to its citizens, however imperfectly that has sometimes been fulfilled, and is expected to work with customers who have trouble paying.

Now, when growing numbers of citizens recognize that government needs to evolve more creative methods of meeting basic needs, is not the time to promote outworn ideas. Monopoly utilities should not ever be in the hands of profiteers.

Katharine W. Rylaarsdam, Baltimore

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