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Municipal Ownership

cities, city, operation, lighting, private, public and street

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MUNICIPAL OWNERSHIP, the own ership, and usually the operation, of public services or industries by a munici pality, on a non-profit-making basis. This is a question which within recent years has become the subject of much de bate between those in favor of private industry as a fundamental principle and those in favor of the "socialization" of public service and industry.

The practice of municipal ownership has made much more progress abroad than in the United States, more especially in Germany. There, in such cities as Berlin and Hamburg the principle has been extended to the ownership and op eration by the city of such enterprises as housing, the slaughter of food animals and the preparation for the market of their meat and even, in some smaller cities, the production of field crops on communal land.

In the United States municipal owner ship has so far been almost entirely limited to the public utilities, and some times these are merely owned by the municipality and leased out for operation to private corporations. Municipal enter prises may generally be classified under these heads: those which constitute natu ral monopolies, such as the supply of water; those which involve the granting of special privileges, such as the use of the main streets for street railway trans portation; and those which are insepar able from the maintenance of the public health, as is the case with the cleaning of the streets and the disposal of refuse and sewage.

But even within these narrow limita tions American cities have not taken up municipal ownership on a very wide scale. The development of this movement in the United States may be judged from the following figures: Out of 204 American cities, having a population of over 30,000, there are 156 which own and operate their own water-supply systems. No city with a population over 300,000 is supplied with water by private corpora tions. Here we have the widest develop ment of municipal ownership in the United States. Obviously, the supply of water closely involves the health of the citizens of a community.

In the matter of municipal lighting the field is much less extended. Of the

204 cities with populations over 30,000, only 21 own and operate their own light ing plants, of which Detroit and Chicago are the most notable examples. Through out the country 1,500 municipalities sup ply their own lighting. Almost entirely this is where electric lighting is em ployed. For of the 204 cities considered, only five operate gas lighting plants, the largest of which is Richmond, Va.

Municipal ownership and operation of street railways, in which considerable progress has been made in European cities, has few examples in this country. Boston and New York City have both built and now own extensive railway systems, but both these cities have leased their systems to private corporations for op eration. In 1913 San Francisco took over a large part of its street railways. Dur ing the first year of operation by the city, the municipal street railways netted the city a surplus of $45,000. Contrasted to this apparent success, is the experi ence of Philadelphia, which, many years ago, took over the operation of a munici pal gas lighting plant. In 1897 the enterprise was pronounced a failure, largely on account of the political cor ruption which it involved, and the light ing system of the city was leased to a private corporation.

Glasgow, Scotland, is usually pointed out as an example of successful munici pal ownership. In 1894 Glasgow took over what were then its horse-car lines, 64 miles in length. The city has since installed modern electric transportation and lengthened the municipally operated lines 200 miles. Fares have been reduced, and the cost of operation has been re duced from $1.80 per mile to 88 cents per mile. This enterprise has now created a balance in the city treasury in its favor amounting to $150,000. In more recent years Glasgow has taken over the prob lem of municipal housing, with the re sult that many of the old obnoxious slum districts have been wiped out and re placed by well-kept rows of working-class houses, rented out to their tenants at very near cost price.

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