Oakwood, Ga., City Manager Stan Brown, who has been with the city for 13 years, has accomplished a great deal in the area of public- private partnerships within the last five to 10 years. More than 30 such partnerships have been developed under his leadership for delivery of urban services, which is impressive, especially in a municipality with a population — as of the 2014 census — that registers at only 4,163.
A public-private partnership, also called a PPP or P3, is a contract between government and a private company where a private company nances, builds and operates some element of a public service; and the private company gets remunerated over several years, either through charges paid by users, or by payments from the public authority or a combination of both. These partnerships are globally encouraged by worldwide organizations, including the United Nations.
Such partnerships are used in transportation projects, water and wastewater systems, delivery of social services, building schools and many other endeavors. But the most rapidly growing platform for Ps is urban economic development. When asked about the catalyst that started him on his partnership journey, Brown reached deep into his municipality’s past for the answer.
“Oakwood has a long history of partnerships beginning with a public/public partnership with the city of Gainesville to bring sewer service to our SR /Mundy Mill Road corridor back in the 1980s,” said Brown.
“What once was a two-lane, farm-to-market road is now a multi-lane parkway that serves as the commercial center of our city. The partnership has since expanded to public/public and public/private partnerships ranging from re, sewer and water services to economic development joint ventures and outsourcing agreements for IT and building inspection services. As a result, we have a staff of only full-time employees for a population of 4,163. Of the 22, 16 are in the police department.”
Other P3 cities in Georgia include Sandy Springs, Johns Creek and Peachtree Corners; many more are dotted all over the nation.
The D.C.-based Urban Land Institute published a pdf — located at http://uli.org/wp-content/uploads/2005/01/TP_Partnerships.pdf — titled “Ten Principles for Successful Public/Private Partnership” that shows how critical strength and resources of both the public and private sectors combined can thrive. However, another entity – Public Services International, which is a global union federation of public services trade unions – takes an opposite view, with David Hall’s “Why Public-Private Partnerships Don’t Work: The many advantages of the public alternative,” which is accessible at www.world-psi.org/sites/default/les/rapport_eng_pages_a_lr.pdf. In particular, Hall highlights reasons why certain global Ps might not work; examples include expense, inefficiency, cheating, diverting government spending from other public services, concealing public borrowing, corruptions, lies and secrets, to name just a few.
Brown himself was not aware of any dissension connected with Ps but said it depended on one’s political environment and the partners involved.
“The key to success for us has been a strong political will to partner for services; seeking partnership with common vision and values as the city; and when it comes to public/ public partnership, ensuring a win-win without the complications of competition,” said Brown.
“We’re especially pleased with our sewer service public/public partnership with the city of Gainesville, city of Flowery Branch and the town of Braselton,” he added. “Through this partnership, the city provided sewer without owning a wastewater plant. We also are proud of our economic development partnerships with Pattillo (Industrial Real Estate) and Tanner’s Creek Business Park. These partnerships have led us to a position where we now have more employment than population and a tax base with percent value as commercial/industrial. In other words, based on our high ratio of commercial/industrial tax base ( percent) compared to residential, which is 14 percent, we serve as an employment center in South Hall County. We have more than 6,000 jobs in Oakwood compared to our population of 4,163.”
Oakwood’s economic development strategy is comprised of land planning/ standards; land investment; infrastructure investment, such as transportation and sewer; and partnerships. ese partnerships are with cities, county and state agencies, including Lanier Technical College and the University of North Georgia; Greater Hall Chamber Economic Development Council; South Hall Business Coalition; Lake Lanier Convention and Visitors Bureau; and members of the private sector like Patillo Industrial Real Estate, Tanner’s Creek Business Park and others.
“By partnering, we’ve avoided staffing and overhead for providing the service and been able to streamline our role to that of contract administrator,” said Brown. “Without the carrying cost of running a utility, we’ve been able to multitask on other initiatives and projects.”
If any mayors or other city powers-that-be are contemplating a P relationship for their cities, Brown has a bit of advice: “Seek partners with the same values. It is also important to seek win-win solutions.”
Here’s to even more municipalities and P3 partnerships building enviable and sustainable cities together.
More about P3s
For more about P3 endeavors, visit the Specialist Centre on PPP in Smart and Sustainable Cities at www.pppcities.org. PPP for Cities is a research, innovation and advisory center that focuses on providing public administrations throughout the world with support in the organization, management and development of projects involving collaboration between the public and private sectors in the Smart Cities arena.
Additionally, if your city is a proponent of P3s and you’re proud of what your P3 municipality has accomplished, share it with other professionals by registering your P3 city to upcoming events, such as the 2017 Partnerships Awards, partnershipsawards.partnershipsevents.com, which is May 11. The Partnership Awards