MARCO ISLAND — After more than a year of the Island being jolted by electric issues, the city’s potential studies of LCEC have been grounded by City Council.
First the city created a committee to study the viability of a possible takeover of LCEC. Then consultants were considered to do the job. Finally, another proposal to attempt to determine if Marco is paying more than other LCEC service areas was proposed.
All came to an end, at least for now, at Monday evening’s council session.
“I can’t see why we’re studying something people think they’re getting a good value for. In five to 10 years, they may not think this is a value and then they will call on their City Council,” said Councilman Ted Forcht regarding the particularly unpopular idea of municipalization, or city takeover of Lee County Electric Cooperative.
“Discussion continues to be on municipalization despite my attempt to refocus this. It’s important to focus on the subsidization not the municipalization,” said Councilman Bill Trotter as he introduced the recommendation to change the agenda item from a decision on whether to approve a consultant to study a takeover to one on whether Marco funds other LCEC service areas.
Chairman Rob Popoff said the idea didn’t have enough residents’ support.
“LCEC is providing us the third lowest rate in the state of Florida. With the exception of a handful of people, I can’t find anyone who supports this, and out of those who do, three of them are up here,” Popoff said.
Audience clapping began.
“We’ll have this discussion again,” said Councilman Jerry Gibson, who also chaired the electric municipalization committee and expressed disappointment in the committee’s recommendation to not move forward with a consultant to study the potential of a city takeover of the electric utility.
Regarding Trotter’s estimate that a subsidization study would cost half that of a municipalization study, Jose Granda who served on the electric committee, made a comment in jest.
“If it’s only $10,000, I’ll pay for it myself,” Granda said.
Although most public speakers spoke against any study, Granda’s comment received audience applause as well.
“I’m very disappointed we approved $100,000 for an audit that is nothing but a witch hunt but won’t spend this money for something that will save us money for the future,” Granda said.
Chairwoman Terri DiSciullo of the forensic audit committee expressed disappointment in the comment from Granda, who is chair of the Code Enforcement Board.
“This audit is far from a witch hunt. Our auditors and committee members have acted in a very professional manner and have been nothing but positive in moving forward,” DiSciullo wrote to council about the issue Tuesday morning.
She also clarified that the auditors’ contract is not to exceed $79,000.
Council voted 2-5 with Councilmen Wayne Waldack and Trotter supporting the motion to direct staff to renegotiate consultant William Herrington’s proposed contract for a municipalization study and change it to a new subsidization study.
Gibson appeared to change his stance on the issue, though he says it may not last.
“The people have spoken, Bill, and as my friend Mr. Petricca would say, ‘you’re beating a dead horse,’ ” Gibson said.
The comment was regarding Trotter’s push for the idea and resident Amadeo Petricca, who used the “beating a dead horse” phrase for other city issues.
Gibson said he will not hesitate to say ‘I told you so’ when the issue comes back up as electric rates go up.
“We’ll hear about this again. Jerry made that very clear and I have no doubt we may continue to be challenged when and if rates go up,” said Tricia Dorn, an LCEC account executive, present at the meeting.
Gibson’s vote in opposition of the motion to study subsidization may allow him to bring the topic back for discussion.
Former electric committee member Linda McCune said if the issue does come back she hopes the council will allow for a committee open to all residents, as the last one was, rather than a committee of seven members selected by the City Council.
While Granda disagreed with that idea, Petricca and Bob Brown, also of the committee, said they hoped to see a large committee for a large issue, should it return.
“I wonder what tidbits of information made five council members vote no? Do you think the MICA survey had anything to do with it? How did the council members find out the vast majority of the residents did not want it? I guess my point is give credit where credit is due,” wrote Lynn Bradeen in an e-mail to the Eagle later Monday evening.
Bradeen is a former Marco Island Civic Association president from several years ago who no longer resides on Marco Island.
MICA survey results released in late April indicated that 82.7 percent of more than 2,500 MICA members do not want the city to expend any further funds to investigate electric municipalization.