UPDATE: Electric ‘municipalization’ becomes lightning rod

Potential electric takeover issue grounded for now with Council tabling of several issues

Monday, City Council gave the 2009 Marco in Bloom Landscaping Awards to, from left, First Baptist Church, institutional; Marbelle Club, condominium; Barry and Margaret Grass, residential; James and Jolaynne Holmes, cul-de-sacs; and Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort, commercial.

Photo by CHERYL FERRARA // Buy this photo

Monday, City Council gave the 2009 Marco in Bloom Landscaping Awards to, from left, First Baptist Church, institutional; Marbelle Club, condominium; Barry and Margaret Grass, residential; James and Jolaynne Holmes, cul-de-sacs; and Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort, commercial.

Should the City of Marco Island continue investigating the possibility of taking over the electric utility, LCEC?

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Monday, City Council gave the 2009 Marco in Bloom Landscaping Awards to, from left, First Baptist Church, institutional; Marbelle Club, condominium; Barry and Margaret Grass, residential; James and Jolaynne Holmes, cul-de-sacs; and Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort, commercial.

Photo by CHERYL FERRARA // Buy this photo

Monday, City Council gave the 2009 Marco in Bloom Landscaping Awards to, from left, First Baptist Church, institutional; Marbelle Club, condominium; Barry and Margaret Grass, residential; James and Jolaynne Holmes, cul-de-sacs; and Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort, commercial.

Alan Brown of the Beautification Committee and Patricia Mastronardi, administrative assistant to the Parks & Recreation Department, are honored for their services at the Marco Island City Council meeting on Monday. 
Cheryl Ferrara/ Special to the Eagle

Photo by CHERYL FERRARA, Special to the Eagle // Buy this photo

Alan Brown of the Beautification Committee and Patricia Mastronardi, administrative assistant to the Parks & Recreation Department, are honored for their services at the Marco Island City Council meeting on Monday. Cheryl Ferrara/ Special to the Eagle

City Manager Steve Thompson at the Marco Island City Council on Monday recognizes Dr. Fay Biles for her loyal attendance at government meetings.    
Cheryl Ferrara/ Special to the Eagle

Photo by CHERYL FERRARA, Special to the Eagle // Buy this photo

City Manager Steve Thompson at the Marco Island City Council on Monday recognizes Dr. Fay Biles for her loyal attendance at government meetings. Cheryl Ferrara/ Special to the Eagle

Marco's electric takeover and tract k discussions

Islander Sayre Uhler on taking over LCEC ...

Electric takeover study

Tim Pinter on committee's progress studying LCEC ...

— Like some other agenda items discussed by the Marco Island City Council at its regular meeting on Monday, entering into a contract for a study of electric rates was deferred. But the decision to move the item came after much debate.

At its core was admission that the whole process had been misnamed, polarizing the public as well as an Ad Hoc committee formed to gather information on the issue.

“This item should have been titled: ‘An electric rate study,’ not ‘The municipalization of the power company,’” said Councilor Bill Trotter. “It’s about rates.”

Councilor Jerry Gibson agreed that the name might have been the problem.

“The purpose of the committee was just to gather facts,” he said. “Everyone was putting the cart before the horse.”

That “cart” was a concern that the city established the all-volunteer committee to move toward purchasing a portion of Lee County Electric Co-op.

On Monday night, council was considering awarding a second contract to William Herrington of WHH Enterprises to study the feasibility of reducing electric rates through the city’s purchase of the local electric distribution system.

The first study, awarded by the council on Feb. 2, 2009, to WHH Enterprises, cost the city $4,700. The second study would cost between $18,500 and $22,500. At the time of the meeting, councilors had just received a hard copy of the first study.

Councilors disagreed on what a second study would really accomplish.

“I just wanted the electrical lines buried so we don’t have to lose our electricity for a week when a big hurricane comes along,” said Councilor Ted Forcht. “Now we’ve moved on to trying to buy power in bulk. I don’t want to be sitting here raising people’s rates. I think we’re off topic.”

Council Chairman Rob Popoff felt the study was unnecessary.

“I think we can get this information by just sitting down with LCEC and asking for it,” he said.

Later, he admitted that a survey sent to the electric company had not been successful in getting information.

Cost and the success of another study were not the council’s only concerns.

“I’m a great proponent for information, rates and data,” said Vice Chairman Frank Recker. “My concern is we felt it was important to have a group that was all-volunteer to head up a committee.”

Gibson, too, saw the committee’s genesis as an area where the council had lacked foresight.

“I was very naive to believe people would step forward and do this with an open mind,” said Gibson. “Some (committee members) came in to prove their positions.”

In hindsight, councilors agreed that future committees should be appointed and filled with people who have expertise in the fields they will be addressing.

The Ad Hoc committee voted 10-8 not to proceed with the second contract. It also voted 16-2 to disband.

“The committee was facing a tremendous amount of frustration,” said Gibson. “There were some trumped up charges aimed at three people on the committee. The person who made the motion to disband the committee was someone who had been under fire.”

Despite that committee’s suggestion to axe the second study, Gibson felt the council could benefit from its results.

“The $22,500 will get information we need to see whether we go anywhere from here,” he said. “Chances are we’ll go nowhere with it. We need to start gathering this kind of information for the future. We are a big customer (of LCEC) on Marco Island so there are some things we need to examine. I don’t understand why people are afraid of facts.”

Popoff felt the study would accomplish very little.

“This is a co-op,” he said, referring to the city’s power supplier. “Everyone pays the same in this co-op. We do subsidize other areas in the co-op, but what about after (Hurricane) Wilma? We were up and running in a few days. Other areas were subsidizing us at that time.”

Popoff was the first to suggest the item be tabled and moved to another meeting. A motion was made by Recker and seconded by Forcht. It passed 5-2 with Councilors Wayne Waldack and Kiester voting against the delay.

Popoff summed up his vote for continuing the discussion at another date.

“We as a council are learning about Ad Hoc committees,” he said. “These are advisory committees and it is up to the council to make the final decision. There was a charter to this committee to get the facts. They did not get the facts. It’s about the information that we might need in the future. Advisory committees provide a great role but the buck stops in these seven (council) seats.”

Discussion on electric municipalization will continue on May 4. There was no public comment on April 6 since the item was continued.

Other items postponed at the April 6 meeting were discussion on Tract K, moved to a later agenda or workshop, and the petition to extend construction at the Marriott Vacation Club, rescheduled for the next regular council meeting on April 20 at 5:30 p.m..

Items approved by the council were: Dog park rules and regulations, the petition for an assisted living facility, a resolution on the shared pathway grant and funding for three community grant requests.

For a clarification on all that was moved and all that was approved by Council Monday see story "Moved and Approved" in left sidebar of related stories

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Comments » 8

Working_Stiff writes:

86% of the people who read this think it's a waste of money. Am I missing something here? Why do some of our City Council find it so important to give WHH Enterprises 20k? Why is this still an issue?

happy6 writes:

good question...doubt you'll get an answer unless it's from poor wayne in his weekly "guest column"

deltarome writes:

Reason why this needs to be finished is that LCEC has raised rates over 40% in the last 4 years and while fuel costs have dropped over the last year, they still got another 8% rate increase.
Marco Island spends 35 million dollars a year for electricity and we need to determine if we can get it for less!
Ignore all the politics......this is REAL MONEY and it is coming from US!

Joe_Btfsplk writes:

I agree with deltarome. There may be a significant opportunity to reduce electric costs on Marco. The island might be able to reduce costs and underground the lines as well. A concern would be if the city used this as a source of revenue for unrelated projects. Either way the money would benefit the island. By the way, $20,000 does not buy much in the way of cost benefit analysis.

MarcoJimbo writes:

Now that the spending has been put off for a month, maybe we'll be able to find out what the results of the recent MICA survey were. Question #8 dealt with this very topic.

Working_Stiff writes:

The rates only increased significantly for those that use large amounts of electricity. Maybe the money would be better spent on analyzing how the City could be more energy efficient. With all those new lights installed on Collier, I can see why the bill has skyrocketed.

Fossil writes:

The city's expenses for power have increased propotionally with the incease in infrastructure. We now have lift stations bleeding power 24/7, intersection lights that are monitoring traffic 24/7 and let's not forget all those new lights on Collier. Our rates are not disproportionate from those nationwide when you campare the same rate structures. Apples and Oranges are really different fruit. If the city purchases this infrastructure the experts have guaranteed rate increases and new assessments to increase revenue for the city. This is borne out by experiences in other cities that have done the same thing. You wanted facts? Well gather all the facts not just the ones that support your position mr. Arceri.

sailingalong writes:

Arceri is never going to let this die. He sees a $500 per hour consulting job in his future.

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