MARCO ISLAND — Marco’s utility issues weren’t completely flushed away by Council Monday, but the controversial sewer project’s construction won’t accelerate and proposed water/sewer rate increases will dampen.
New utility committee to review utility rates
Council chose to implement a 9.5 percent utility rate increase effective Oct. 1 and created a utility advisory committee to further study other suggested increases.
Public Works Director Rony Joel said percent increases proposed over the next five years include 13 percent in October, 13 percent in 2010, 8 percent in 2011, 8 percent in 2012 and 3 percent in 2013. These figures came from the consultant, Public Resources Management Group, hired to perform the utility rate study.
“A 9.5 percent increase is truly the minimum that can be lived with,” Joel said.
This increase pays for COLA, bond covenants and bare minimal utility projects needed to ensure people’s life and safety, he added.
Council approved the idea with a formal decision to come at a budget hearing scheduled Sept. 8.
A new utility committee formed by council Monday will look into all the assumptions that went into the rate study.
Councilman Bill Trotter said he would like the committee to study whether COLA really is more than 5 percent as consultants have reported.
Joel explained the rate increase covers necessities only, including concerns caused by faulty electric wiring at the water treatment plant. Regardless of COLA, the 9.5 percent increase raises the money needed to fix these problems, he said.
Council unanimously chose to amend the schedule for the committee’s rate recommendations to come back in December, instead of February.
“I’d like to ask that it should sunset before the election so it doesn’t become an election campaign issue that blurs fact from fiction,” Vice Chairman Frank Recker said.
“Elections are about blurring facts,” Chairman Rob Popoff replied and then chuckled.
“If it becomes an election over another two to three percent, it sounds like a boring election to me,” said Recker, prior to his recommendation to alter the schedule.
Resident Ken Honecker agreed that the utility rate decisions should be sped up so people, such as those in condos, can have the information as they set their budgets.
Resident Phil Kostelnik questioned how the finances of the utility got so far off over the past five years.
“The one good thing that all levels of government is good at is raising taxes, rates, fees, etc, etc, etc,” Kostelnik said.
Five members of the committee have been decided, including residents Larry Magel, John Arceri, Don Henderson, Jose Granda and Honecker. Two remaining members, Amadeo Petricca and Bob Brown, have been suggested but not yet finalized. Background information and resumes of all members, except Brown, are available in supporting links below the story.
STRP stays on schedule
Council chose not to accelerate the septic tank replacement program schedule Monday. In order to accurately estimate the savings to property owners, the city would need to put the three remaining districts, including the Estates area, out to bid.
“If you all say ‘yes’ on this, the letters are going to go out to the districts and they’re going to get all fired up and the work we’ve been doing to get along with one another is going to go down the drain,” said Councilman Ted Forcht, an opponent to the project for the first couple years of the STRP, which began in 2005.
“The real question is ‘how are you going to finance this short term?’ You’ve already got a problem financing what you’ve got,” said Honecker.
A.K. Battaglia, who lives in the Estates area to be affected by speeding up the sewer project, said she is not for acceleration because the economy is terrible and construction is going to take a longtime to recover.
“ ... The only reason for this is to charge the sewer and water fees sooner,” she said, urging it wasn’t a good enough reason.
“I’m against accelerating this thing,” agreed resident Jay Santiago. Residents’ economic challenges, as well as difficulties for the city to obtain municipal bonds, were among his reasons for opposing speeding up the project.
Resident Karen Glaub warned that vacant lots need to come into the picture and will also have a negative effect on the economics of the project.
“I don’t see the need to expedite it. I’m not sure if the anxiety we’re going to create by sending mailers out that we’re going to move the project up two years is going to be worth the savings,” Popoff said, adding that a $7,000 per property owner savings could change his mind.
The motion to bid the remaining three areas and consider accelerating the project failed by a vote of 4-3, with Forcht, Councilman Chuck Kiester, Recker and Popoff voting “no.”