Tonight the Pleasantville City Council approved an ordinance to rescind its earlier approval of a 39-year sewer concession deal with the private equity firm Bernhard Capital.
The 4-3 vote represents a remarkable turnaround after months of organizing by community groups opposed to the privatization deal.
The original memorandum of understanding would have transferred control of the operation, management and financing of the sewer collection system to Bernhard Capital in exchange for $15 million upfront. Advocates had raised concerns with contract provisions that could have led to unexpected rate increases as well as with the approval process. The original ordinance was approved during consecutive meetings in February 2022, when community members were barred entry from City Hall due to unrelated protests.
“This is a huge victory for democracy in South Jersey. This privatization scheme was a horrible deal for Pleasantville residents,” said Food & Water Watch senior organizer Kate Delany. “It would have gouged residents with excessive sewer rate hikes to profit a private equity firm. We applaud the City Council and the community organizations who stood up to this financial firm to protect their essential wastewater system. Responsible public provision is in the best interests of the public.”
This is the second time Bernhard Capital has lost an attempt to privatize a water system in South Jersey. The company faced stiff opposition to its bid to take over the public sewer system in Cumberland County.
“From Fayetteville, Louisiana to Pleasantville, New Jersey, controversy follows Bernard Capital,” said Irvin Moreno-Rodriguez, Pleasantville resident and co-director of El Pueblo Unido of Atlantic City. “This is not a coincidence. Bernhard is a firm that will do whatever it takes to profit off the public utilities of American cities. Public utilities should be public and never at the mercy of money.”