On the one hand, Marco Island City Councilman Ted Forcht doesn’t like the idea of owning a power company and appreciates the service from the city’s electricity provider, Lee County Electric Cooperative (LCEC).
On the other, Forcht would love to see the city get its power lines underground and likes the idea of doing studies before making decisions on big-ticket items, like, say, owning a power company.
These conflicting thoughts leads to some conflicting emotions.
“I don’t want to own that damn power company,” Forcht said. “That would be the most horrible thing in the world. ... The city of Marco Island has absolutely no business owning another utility. It’s like a nightmare. I’ll be tossing in bed all night just thinking about that.”
But, man, would Forcht like LCEC to make more commitments to the undergrounding project.
“I want somebody from off Marco Island to show us some respect,” he said. “With Collier County, we make up a big part of their budget and we’re treated like morons down here. And Collier County contributes a lot to the state budget and they’re treated like morons up there.”
Such is the state of Forcht’s mind heading into two weeks of what figures to be intense discussion about whether the city should look into getting into the power business. City staff has released a nine-page report that recommends the city contract with a consultant and form an ad hoc committee to study the municipalization of the city’s electricity services. The report says potential benefits could include cost reductions to residents, businesses and the city, and provide additional revenue to pay for police, fire and parks services.
The city gave LCEC the opportunity to see the report and the cooperative produced its own seven-page response. Their advice? Don’t do the study.
And let the lobbying begin.
LCEC CEO Dennie Hamilton requested individual meetings with Marco’s seven City Council members, set to happen this week. In response, the city has provided councilors with two sets of “discussion points” for the meetings — one on municipalization and the other on undergrounding. LCEC spokeswoman Karen Ryan said Hamilton wants to make sure the council is hearing from him.
“He hasn’t met them yet, your paper has written some things and that staff report is out,” Ryan said. “And that’s all we’ve heard about this. We want to talk about it and answer any questions they might have.”
LCEC will also be holding a public meeting on June 12 — and Hamilton will be in attendance — at the Marco Island Marriott at 6 p.m. It will be a general question-and-answer session, Ryan said, but she expects both municipalization and undergrounding to be on everyone’s minds.
“Because there’s been some publicity on it, we thought it’d be best for customers to get answers directly from us,” she said.
All this is leading up to June 16’s all-day Marco city budget meeting where council will decide whether to go forward with the study.
The starting point for these discussions began four years ago when the city signed a franchise agreement with LCEC. The agreement states that the city will receive the revenue from a 5 percent tax on island electric bills to be used for undergrounding power lines.
But city officials became frustrated with rising LCEC cost estimates for the project and what they said was a lack of cooperation in providing information. Last year, a city consultant hired to assist with the undergrounding effort suggested the city look at municipalization, which the consultant contended could add $5 million to city coffers without increasing rates. The municipalization idea has begun to gain traction with City Council in the last two months.
On May 19, council voted 5-1 to authorize bids for a pilot program to bury 4.6 miles of electric lines in a residential area in north Marco. Councilman Chuck Kiester dissented and Councilman Rob Popoff was absent. The city is hoping for a bid to come in with a cost closer to its estimate of $200,000 per mile, rather than LCEC’s estimate of $400,000 per mile.
At the meeting, LCEC said the cooperative was “neutral” to undergrounding and supported the city’s pilot program. There was no mention of municipalization at the meeting from either side. But that’s no longer the case.
As for Forcht, he is inclined to support the municipalization study and is unsure why LCEC would be against the city taking a look.
“As a policy maker, I need to be informed,” he said. “I want to know, why are you afraid of the study? When someone bucks somebody like that on a study, you think they know the answer already and they don’t like it.”