Atop a stage between a large American flag and a large State of Florida flag, Lee County Electric Cooperative Spokeswoman Karen Ryan introduced a group of cooperative employees to a round of applause. Ryan followed by introducing City of Marco Island staff and elected officials to a mere smattering of clapped hands.
It was that kind of night inside a meeting room at the Marco Island Marriott where about 200 people gathered to hear LCEC present its side of the story on a potential take over of the island’s electricity services.
LCEC CEO Dennie Hamilton gave an hour-long presentation and spent another hour answering questions from customers not only about municipalization, but also a city plan to bury power lines underground. The meeting came in advance of Monday’s city council budget workshop where council will likely decide whether to spend an estimated $25,000 for a consultant to study a city take over and form a citizen ad hoc committee to further address the issue. City officials have identified possible rate reductions and an alternative revenue source resulting from city-owned electricity.
Hamilton’s message — which he stressed Thursday night and in meetings with individual councilors last week — is that a study isn’t in the best interest of LCEC or the city.
“We don’t think you could fit those pieces of the pie without making the pie larger,” Hamilton said while standing in front of a presentation slide titled: “The City would likely have to raise rates to break-even, much less provide additional revenues.”
Hamilton also emphasized the cooperative is against a buyout and would “vigorously oppose” any city condemnation attempt.
“At some point if this thing gets legs, we’re going to have to hire some lawyers to work on condemnation, some accountants to figure out our valuation and probably a PR firm so we can fight this thing the best we can,” he said.
A number of city councilors and officials attended the meeting. City Public Works Director Rony Joel, who has been involved in negotiations with LCEC over the past couple months, said the cooperative didn’t make enough of a case against a study.
“I don’t think they adequately addressed the reasons why we shouldn’t go ahead and investigate this,” Joel said. “The bottom line is we don’t know what the benefit might be to the city.”
During the question-and-answer session, the dominant message from Marco residents to LCEC was simple: We like you.
There were compliments about the cooperative’s response to Hurricane Wilma in 2005 and a blown transformer at one home just last week.
“I think the main question here is what city government is ever better run than a cooperative?” asked Francis Kelley, 85, a full-time island resident.
Janet O’Connell, 57, also a full-time resident stood up to speak about the difficulties of those living on the island on fixed incomes. What might make the most sense, O’Connell indicated, is the decision that saves the most dollars.
“Not everybody on this island is rich,” she said to a round of applause.