Petersburg moves forward after rejecting offer to sell water assets

PETERSBURG, Va. -- For a cash-strapped city, selling their water rights for millions of dollars would bring in a  much-needed "short term infusion of cash," says City of Petersburg Mayor Sam Parham.

It seems like a quick solution to fill the City coffers, and at the same time let someone else pay for expensive repairs but Mayor Parham says if the buyer is a private for-profit company, rates would go up.

"Eventually anything that is a business, you will have to turn a profit sometime," says Parham.

City leaders considered for more than a year selling off the water assets, but an outspoken public and online social media campaign changed their decision.

"The citizens of Petersburg have spoken and they have told us that they trust the City of Petersburg to maintain the infrastructure, than a private entity," says Mayor Parham.

The government watch dog group Clean Sweep Petersburg was vocal online and during City Council Meetings.

"Very concerned about what would happen to the City if the water and sewer assets were sold to a private sector company," said Clean Sweep founder Barb Rudolph.

Rudolph says if the City did sell the water assets, homeowners and businesses would see "higher prices because there's a profit motive for stock holders".

Rudolph tells CBS 6 if the City can improve billing and collections it would help with money issues and towards repairs.

But there are some who support it.

"I am absolutely in favor of selling our water system," said Kimberly Ann Calos.

Calos believes the City's continued financial issues are a main concern for repairs not getting done.

"I really don't see how we're going to be able to repair and maintain things in a cost-effective way," Calos said.  "I think our water system is not an asset right now it is a liability and will continue to be that way until we find a way to bring more money into our City."

Mayor Parham says a move is underway to improve billing and collections from 70 percent to 90+ percent to help increase revenue coming into the City.

City leaders are also in the process of putting together a plan for replacing pipes.