Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto is calling for a financial and legal advisory team to assist the city with what he called a “critical need to improve” the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority.
The team would consider long-term plans for the authority's operations and improve customer services to Pittsburgh residents.
"The City of Pittsburgh owns the water and sewer system that was leased to the PWSA decades ago. It's time to reevaluate this structure," Peduto said in a news release. "After systemic problems with inadequate billing, lead in our service lines and this week's flush and boil water advisory, the city has the duty to find new ways to improve our water services and create the safe, effective and sustainable water authority our residents deserve."
A request for proposals, known as an RFP, was issued Friday to identify an advisory team to manage evaluations of a possible restructuring of the PWSA to enhance water and sewer service delivery.
“This team, once chosen, will help kick-start a process of addressing the agency's repeated structural failures. This could include plans to implement alternate ways to provide water services, possibly through a public-private partnership to jointly manage some authority operations,” the release said.
The PWSA board has been advised of the request for proposals and supports it, the news release said.
In a statement regarding external reviews, PWSA officials said they support the mayor's initiative to have a team of experts review the authority:
The Allegheny County controller, however, said she is opposed to the mayor's announcement. In a statement, Chelsa Wagner said:
The mayor’s administration is also considering plans to gauge interest from organizations to partner with the city in the operation of the water and sewer assets, including a capital improvement plan to invest in critical infrastructure needs.
The advisory team will help with that endeavor by studying the financial condition of the city's water and sewer lines, engaging with residents and other water consumers for their input, recommending ways for the city to maximize public control in any partnership; and helping in other matters, according to the mayor's office.
"While we are not presently considering a full privatization, nor a third-party arrangement similar to the previous engagement with Veolia, we are seeking a full financial and operations partner. With disintegrating water infrastructure, massive debt problems and repeated failures in customer service and billing issues, deep changes to the PWSA are obviously necessary. We will work diligently with City Council, and the public, to identify the best solutions for our residents," said the mayor's chief of staff Kevin Acklin.
On Thursday, the City Council issued a news release that said all council members are "collectively requesting an audit" by the Pennsylvania auditor general and attorney general "regarding PWSA's contract with Veolia, Inc., outside contractors, PWSA's procurement process and all other areas under their respective jurisdiction."
In the news release, council members said, "Other areas that have prompted this level of scrutiny include, but is not limited to, the high lead levels in the water supplied to the residents of the City of Pittsburgh and the ongoing billing issues that have plagued the City of Pittsburgh residents for over two years."
Council members are collaborating with Peduto and City Controller Michael Lamb to resolve the issues with PWSA.
Responses to the RFP will be evaluated in the coming weeks, with hopes of hiring an advisory team by the end of February.
Stay with Channel 11 News and WPXI.com for continuing coverage.
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