MUNICIPAL OWNERSHIP OF PUBLIC UTILITIES.
In a recent paper by John W. Hill, C. E., dealing with the subject “Municipal ownership of public utilities” (to which he is altogether opposed), he said: “Why public waterworks should, of necessity, be under the control of the municipality, is not quite apparent. The most successful waterworks, from the business point of view, are owned and operated by private companies. * * * In a large public works with which the writer was recently associated, involving an expenditure of more than twenty-five millions of dollars, and embracing a line of works in some respects entirely new to this country, there was abundant evidence of a material increase of cost of works because it was conducted by a municipality rather than by a private corporation. In planning the works, officials above the writer in point of legal authority, having absolutely no experience in the technique or practice of the works in question, insisted upon recognition in developing details, and to secure peace in the official family, and move on with the work, many compromises were made at unnecessary cost to the city. The best results could not be sought by direct economical and efficient methods, in the interest of the public purse. The director of the department of public works and the chief engineers of two other bureaus participated in the preparation of plans and details for which they had no training, and upon which they were wholly unqualified to act; but, by virtue of their offices, they had to be recognised and consulted, and, in order to stamp their authority on the work, features of construction, expensive and useless, were frequently incorporated in the plans, solely to maintain the ‘entente cordial’ in the official household. I do not think anything of this kind could have occurred in a private enterprise. In providing for the watertightness of a reservoir, it should scarcely be necessary to use in liberal quantity imported puddle-day, and then paint the surfaces of the concrete lining with hot asphalt. If the puddle is worth anything, the asphalt coating will not be required, and, if the puddle is not reliable, then why use it at all, and this especially where both puddle and asphalt coating were unusually expensive? Hundreds of tons of cast iron water pipe were laid, and many stop-valves placed, which use of the works showed had no function whatever, solely because one of the superior officers conceived a plan of operation which had never before been adopted, and now it is known will never be adopted. * * * The most serious objection was found in building unnecessary structures, solely because one of the superior officers urged that, even if they did no good, they could do no harm, and, therefore, should be built. The harm done was to the fund provided for the work, which, in a single instance, amounted to three per cent, of the cost of all the works. * * * The losses to the municipal corporation were not limited to unnecessary features of plan and construction, but were felt in the employment of inefficient, worthless and superfluous assistants, solely because some political leader wanted his ‘heelers’ on the payroll. Draftsmen who could not draw, and inspectors who could not inspect, were paid high salaries, and kept on the roll, because some political friend had passed the word that they should be, * * * Our waterworks [in Cincinnati], as everybody knows, are owned by the city. A party claiming to uphold the cause of reform had elected five members of the board of public service. Under the grotesque management of these gentlemen the old waterworks, which for some time has been kept running only by careful nursing, broke down. Cincinnatians suffered some very real discomfort in consequence, and for a time the city was threatened with worse disaster than actually came to it. And yet that very board of public service, whose inefficiency was so largely responsible for the trouble, had been named by men, some of whom had, and all of whom claimed to have the best interests of the city at heart. What reason is rhere to believe that mistakes of this sort would not occur in the future, with municipal ownership of all public utilities in force, as they have, with smaller chances of disaster, in the past? * * During the past few months, I have had occasion to collect statistics on the cost of steam power, and in support of the claim of better management by private corporations advanced in this paper, it is found that, even in the few cities having the highest type of triple-expansion pumping engines and accessories to match, and in which the contract test and annual duties of the machinery are the best ever attained, the cost of power is greater than in the large, w’ell-managed steam-power plants, owned and operated by the private electric and manufacturing corporations and a comparison of statistics divided as to cost of fuel, labor, repairs and stores, shows the excess cost to be principally in the item of labor. In the following table, the figures represent the annual costs per indicated horsepower of prime movers: Coal, figured at $2.50 per ton, excepting Hamilton, $2.20 per ton; city waterworks, and Philadelphia power, 8,760 hours; Pittsburg power, 8,666 hours; Hamilton, 8,000 hours.
It is interesting to note that the total cost of power by a private corporation, No. 11 on the list, is less than the cost of labor alone in the City Water Works power, Nos. 1, 2, 3, 5, and 8. The figures are from the last annual reports. The costs of labor, repairs and supplies are not known in detail for No, 7, but can roughly be stated as $-⅛5 for labor, $4.14 for repairs, and $2 for supplies. In each city pumping station, the engines considered are from the best known and highest class builders, and the waterworks profession are accustomed to point to the cities considered as examples of excellent waterworks management. The average cost of labor in the eight city power stations is $23.62 per indicated horsepower per year for 8,760 hours, while the average cost of labor in the private corporation stations is $7.33—about one-third the cost in the municipally owned and operated stations; to state the matter in different form, the city uses three men to do one man’s work. Engineers generally recognise the modern high-duty triple-expansion pumping engine as the highest type of steam power, and the service of pumping at constant speed, against a steady head, to reservoirs, the “optimum” condition for high running duty. Moreover the long runs of pumping engines, without interruption for Sundays, are calculated to favor the annual economy, when compared with steam engines working under a constantly varying load, and, in all but traction and electric lighting stations, stopped altogether for Sundays and holidays. The duties obtained on the trials of engines 1 to 6 inclusive, are the highest in the history of pumping machinery—a fact well attested by the annual charge for fuel; indeed, the fuel costs, on the average, are as good for the city-managed works as for the privately managed works. But, when you come to the later charge, there is when the politician comes to the front in great shape. There could be no political advantage in being wasteful of fuel; but there is a decided advantage in future elections in being wasteful of labor. * * *