Considering a Private Partner?

Every city, county, or community faces its own set of unique challenges. But one challenge generally remains the same: to deliver more and better service to citizens with a limited set of resources.

Hundreds of communities have tackled this challenge by creating a partnership with a private company that can leverage its specialties, strengths, and purchasing power to deliver a range of services efficiently. In the public works space, private partners are increasingly helping communities manage everything from wastewater treatment plants to grounds maintenance, street repair, and solid waste.

Though such partnerships have succeeded in the United States for decades, the public-private partnership model is still new for many communities uncertain on how to proceed.

In a true partnership, the public partner retains ownership of the assets, investment decisions, and rates. The private partner is a services contractor, operating, maintaining, and managing on the community's behalf. A public works director or city manager should consider at least five factors before entering into a publicprivate partnership.

One: Define Project Goals

Forming a public-private partnership must be carefully thought out. Are you trying to save money? Do you have trouble keeping critical staff positions filled? Or maybe you're struggling to keep up with an ever-changing array of environmental regulations. Whatever your particular challenge, articulate the problem and the outcomes you'd like to achieve. Without knowing the goal of a project, it's difficult to chart the right path.

Two: Secure Consensus

Like snowflakes, no two partnerships are alike. Take time to research partnerships. Talk with firms that deliver the services you're considering contracting. Then outline the approach with your community leaders to see if they agree that this is a valid delivery model to evaluate and that makes business sense. Some city officials may find it difficult to understand the potential benefit of partnering, especially if it represents a sea change. To aid in your research, the National Council for Public-Private Partnerships ( and the Water Partnership Council ( offer informational resources.

Three: Develop a Request for Proposals

When you've outlined your goals and achieved consensus on pursuing a partnership model, writing a strong request for proposals (RFP) with data and measurements is key. This document will bring the best potential partners to you, while also charting the future of a strong partnership.

Four: Evaluate Employee Impact

Consider how a partnership will affect your current staff. In most cases, companies are eager to bring the current workforce on as employees. The benefit to employees? Because of the specialization and size of most companies, employees can receive additional education and training, enjoy more opportunities for professional growth and advancement, and draw upon expert resources when they face challenging issues. If it makes sense for youto transition your employees to the private partner, ask your partner to detail transition planning, benefits, and communications to assure a smooth process.