Marco panel begins talk of taking over electrical services

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— If you consider a potential City of Marco Island takeover of its electricity services a power surge, then Wednesday afternoon began the long and complicated process connecting those circuits.

The city held its first meeting of the “Electric Municipalization Ad-Hoc Committee,” the group charged with determining the costs of grabbing the city’s electric utility from current provider Lee County Electric Cooperative, or LCEC.

A robust 18 city residents serving on the committee attended Wednesday, crowded into a training room in the city’s fire station. City Public Works Director Rony Joel, who’s serving as the staff’s liaison to the committee, explained the endgame.

“We know the conclusions,” Joel said. “There are three. One, do nothing; two, negotiate with LCEC; three, go to the public referendum (about buying the utility) at the next election.”

Joel and City Councilman Jerry Gibson, the committee’s non-voting chair, emphasized the committee’s job is fact finding. By April, with the help of a consultant, the committee expects to present to City Council an analysis of what a takeover would entail and any potential savings to city electric users or additional revenues to city coffers.

The committee will be hiring a consultant, form sub-committees, interview municipalities that own power companies and crunch numbers.

“There’s no glamour in our job,” Gibson said.

Since news leaked in late April about city officials wanting to look into a takeover, debate has not only focused on cost but also on Lee County Electric Cooperative’s positive reputation on the island, including near universal acclaim for efforts to restore power after Hurricane Wilma three years ago.

E-mails, letters to the editor and guest editorials have flown back and forth between camps solidifying nearly along the same lines as the great debate about installing an island-wide central sewer system, which swallowed all Marco politics for years.

Gibson said it was important for everyone on the committee to have an open mind.

“People who have made public comments either for or against municipalization have already earned my mistrust,” he said.

But public opinion appears to be against a city takeover. The Marco Island Civic Association recently released a survey with 73.3 percent of over 2,500 association members responding opposing the idea.

Lee County Electric Cooperative has maintained it has no interest in selling off Marco’s services and said the only way it could happen would be if the city condemned the electric lines. The cooperative has also expressed dismay that talks have reached this point.

Lee County Electric Cooperative executive Tricia Dorn, who’s in charge of Marco Island’s account, sat tight-lipped through Joel’s presentation during the meeting. Joel presented data that suggested Marco was subsidizing the rest of the cooperative’s service area.

“Part of the challenge we have and part of the problem the group has is we have to learn more about LCEC,” Joel said. “We may be pleasantly surprised by what we find out.”

After the meeting, Dorn said sections of the meeting were hard to take.

“Obviously, it is difficult to listen to a community of this type talk about a potential takeover of the company you work for,” Dorn said.

Dorn said she plans to attend all the committee’s meetings and follow up on some of the issues discussed Wednesday.

“I look forward to this process to bring the facts out,” she said.

Dorn added that Lee County Electric Cooperative has heard from numerous customers concerned about its relationship with the city.

“That relationship has been unaffected to this point,” she said.

The committee’s first task will be hiring a consultant, and that process will start at the next meeting, Sept. 17. Eight consultants inquired about the project, but interest waned due to current or potential conflicts of interest with Lee County Electric Cooperative, Joel said. After the meeting, Joel identified the two remaining consultants as R.W. Beck, a Seattle-based firm with 22 offices in the U.S. including Tampa and Orlando, and Virchow, Krause & Co., a Milwaukee-based firm with eight offices in the upper Midwest. Joel has said he expects a consultant to cost around $25,000, which will be paid from the 5 percent fee on city electric bills earmarked for putting electric lines underground.

Marco appears not to be the only city having issues with Lee County Electric Cooperative.

Last week, officials from the City of Cape Coral, which is also serviced by LCEC, met with Joel, Gibson and Marco City Manager Steve Thompson to discuss Cape Coral’s efforts to put its power lines underground. That’s the issue that sparked Marco’s interest in taking over city electric services.

“They were kind of pumping us on information on undergrounding because they’re running into the same stonewalling we were,” Gibson said.

Gibson added that Cape Coral officials’ “curiosity was piqued” about Marco’s potential takeover of its electric service, but it wasn’t a topic of discussion.

© 2008 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Comments » 17

27_Year_Resident writes:

Where were our two prize citizens Hall and Neylon?? I thought they served on this committee. Oh wait, they were at their homes...Neylon in New England and Hall in California because they don't live here. Last I heard Neylon was renting out his house on the island.

waterday writes:

Hey you can't fight City Hall! Hall and Neylon tried.. I guess Neylon and Hall were smart to leave our very expensive (getting more expensive every day!) paradise. Our profitable City wants the Electric Company. How sad for all of us! We will get charged premium ... just like out city owned (profitable) water company. The city has already made up its mind.. this is just the necessary steps to go through to condemn Lee Electic. For the record, Lee Electric has been a wonderful company servicing our island very efficient and even in serious hurricane weather- electric was restored within a 1-2 days on the entire island. We are not charged at Marco premium (which our City wants the money) and we are paying -like all the other citys that Lee Electric services- correctly. No other City has a problem with Lee Electric but Marco does! amazing isn't us. Everyone on this island (who can not afford all these rate hikes with our profitable city) needs to fight this takeover. but as the saying goes... you can't fight city hall.and Lee County Electric is doomed. Our city has already decided that they want this utility for more profit.

dwbadger writes:

A small community owning a utility makes no sense. The efficiency of serving a larger area is lost. The infrastructure to support this initiative will be huge. Who on Marco is qualified to lead a utility company. Spending $25,000 on a consultant is ridiculous. Why is this money coming form the fee for underground placement of lines, when it has nothing to do with that. Another example of mis-management of the city. Just think what the rates will be in the coming years as the City needs to raise more and more money to pay for an ever expanding staff. just think of all of the uses the city can use this money for that it wasn't intended. Everywhere individuals and businesses are faced with cutting expense as revenue declines. Not on Marco, we increase expense and continue to grow the city staff. Maybe it's time to pack the bags and move on.

multi_million_heir writes:

dw, its too bad the way things are for the average people here. i agree fiscal responsibility is whats needed. but its not going to happen. marco island is like a huge vacuum constantly sucking the wallets dry.

lauralbi1 writes:

To all of you above. I am on the Committee and cannot get specific on issues, but suffice it to say that when all is said and done, any action on this issue will be put to a referendum.
At this point you are arguing non-issues as the Committee is fact finding only.
What if it turns out that, along with the 33 small Municipalities that own their own power, we could put $5 million a year in our coffers ?? If it turns out otherwise, then we had a good effort. Get a life and stop complaining. If our Water Utility was owned by a City 600 miles away, as what would be if we did not buy it, what do you think our rates would be. We would be financing their water projects with our water bills, instead of our own. Do some research before you open up with statements that have no relevance.
Ed Issler

Marcosnook03 writes:

"Get a life and stop complaining?" Hardly sounds to me like a biased person on a commision. Sounds more like a sell out that already knows where he sides on the issue. Nice job Marco for putting a tool on this supposed exploratory fact finding mission!!!

lauralbi1 writes:

MarcoSnook03: Do you read or not ?? If you read the first two blogs you will see that they have no interest whatsoever in a fact finding mission. These two bloggers already have the City owning an Electric Utility. I am certain that if 10 objective people knew the facts and read these postings, 9 of those 10 would say that the first two were complaining just for the sake of complaining.
Maybe that is you too ?? I certainly know many facts about LCEC, but have no opinion as to how this study will come out.
Ed Issler

waterday writes:

Ed Issler,

Please do all of us hard working citizens of Marco Island who are being priced out by our dictatorship city a favor and step down off your comittee. You seem to matter of factly have all the facts. I guess you are what one would call a "Know it All" from reading all your blogs you seem to know what is best for everyone. It is really too bad that you do not see or agree with all these blogs on our outrageous increases that we are all paying from our profitable city. Our city has proved with the water utility, and not listening or caring about the residents or our pocketbooks. Marco City wants our Electric company to make huge profits and charge all of us residents more and more! When will it end, I guess when we are all driving sadly over the bridge. This city has already made the decision, the electric company will belong to City. this is just a formality to get there. We have all seen the damage and we are not fools twice. Please take your matter of factly expertise and save all of us islanders some money, our city owning the utility is not the answer. Just curious, are you and Arceri good friends? Have a good day.

lauralbi1 writes:

25yearsonmarco: I'm so happy you have all the answers. The most interesting aspect to all of this is that any future action, whatever that may be, will be up to a referendum. I guess you have no use for Democracy.
It certainly is not as simple as you want to make it. I suggest, as I suggest for others, that you do some research and historical documenting to find out the different alternatives and different scenarios.
It is not cheap to be a City. Esopecially when 89% of our taxes go to the County and we get almost nothing in return. That is who is robbing you, not Marco Island. The 20% Marco increase represents 2.2% of your entire Property Tax Bill.
Your statement above is very indicative of someone too lazy to work for your City. I do not have all the facts. I do not purport to have all the facts. I am willing to research and I am willing to listen and I am willing to learn. How about you ??
Ed Issler

waterday writes:

Ed Issler:
Like you have just shown you really do think you have all the answers. We do not have a democracy on Marco it is a dictatorship. a referendum is just a procedure for the city when done on Mark-up island, to put the long final outcome of owning our electric plant in place. The alternative that works is what we want to stay in place. Lee County does an excellent job, although I am sure that you and our wonderfully ran city will prove a diffrence scenario. Our city is ran for profit you got that right- it is definitely not ran as a cheap city, in a down economy! Marco Island is robbing us and we just got voted in a record tax increase for Marco in a down economy. only on mark-up island. I do my homework (but I do not matter of factly state the facts as you incorrectly do) When good people who help our island try it is on deaf ears, if it does not profit mark-up island. I am willing to listen, put you will NEVER convince me or the MANY OF CITIZENS OF MARCO WITH CORRECT FACTS, not fabricated scenarios that our City should own our utilities. We have already went this route and been fooled wrongly once. Please Ed, go fool some other unsuspecting souls.

marcoislandres writes:

We will get to vote on this just like we got to vote on the STRP.

waterday writes:

Wow, I must have missed this important vote. Seems our entire community must have been away during STRP votes. Democracy No. Dictatorship Yes.

multi_million_heir writes:

as i was showering and watching the liquid gold(marco public water) run down the drain it brought to mind an old soap from tv yesteryear called dallas. maybe we could have our own soap marketed and share the royalties. it could lead up to the big show, who bought j.r..

Fossil writes:

Stop complaining and pay. John Arceri and his friends have given you the government you deserve. After all you voted them into office didn't you? We thought they would act independently from one another questioning City Staff and shutting out lobbyists. Unfortunately for us, it turns out our elected officials have become puppets of John Arceri. See emails written by John confirming this fact, at marcoislandblog.blogspot.com We now have a form of representitve government that the former Soviet Union would appreciate. We have a politbyuro or policy-making by an executive committee. Or a dictatorship by committee, receiving instructions and guidance from John and it is the government that the majority voted for. So get over it.

lauralbi1 writes:

You know, you bloggers are just amazing. First, you must realize that the "1600 e-mails" that were sent to Council (who knows how many different voters) represented 1/2 of 1/3 of the voters that voted for the "losing side" in the last election. So, as much as I am a proponent of fiscal constraint and fiscal responsibility, it would appear that the 5 Council persons that are voting represent a large majority of the voters on Marco. That is a Democracy. As far as the Committee, it has already been legislated that any recommendation involving taxpayer funds would be put to a referendum. So, be as cynical as you like, but always remember that the majority of Marco Islanders want what the Council is voting for. That's it for me on this subject. The article is about the Committee, not the Council.
Ed Issler

sunnycity writes:

I remember the city criticizing Florida water about the high rates they were charging us. With this city in control our water rates + FEE'S are higher than before. Look at your LCEC bill now and then after Marco takes it over. After the rate increases and city fee's it is going to look ugly.

jchamberland writes:

Wheres Foster and Davis?? Why aren't they on this committee?? Just like Hall and Neylon they don't live here anymore. There should be residency requirements to serve on a committee.

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