MARCO ISLAND — Some call his estimates hasty, but others say Council should make haste if Marco resident Amadeo Petricca is correct about how much revenue is lost due to a possible disparity in utility rates.
“It’s time this city address the condo metered rates and get the condos to pay their fair share of their utility bills,” said Marco resident Frances Enman
Petricca, a member of the Marco Island Taxpayers’ Association and the Ad Hoc Utility Advisory Committee, estimates that if master meter rates were raised to be more equitable with single meters, the utility could earn $1.7 million more each year, nearly eliminating the need for estimated, across the board, rate increases, beginning with a projected 13 percent increase in October 2010 to follow the 9 percent increase already added earlier this month.
Petricca is requesting that Council immediately evaluate water and waste water rates paid by master metered condominiums versus individually-metered single-family homes.
“The utility is being denied the revenue it desperately needs and individually metered customers are subsidizing the master metered condos.”
Ken Honecker, also a member of MITA and the utility committee, has asked on several occasions that the committee have the ability to review this aspect of the rate structure.
Vice Chairman Frank Recker requested Council support Honecker’s and Petricca’s requests for the committee to review condo versus single-family water and waste water rates before the end of the year, but the idea garnered little vocal support from other Council members during recent meetings.
“I will not assume any adjustments or judgments should be made in haste as the rates were originally set based on what are believed to be honest professional judgments,” Councilman Wayne Waldack said Thursday.
Petricca proposes that the current base fee paid by individually metered customers of $23.69 should be the same for all sewer customers. Currently, master metered condos pay a base fee of $4.39 per month for waste water service. There are about 8,475 condo units on Island, and an adjustment would bring in about $1.7 million more dollars annually, he said.
“There is a difference in rates because there are differences in the amount of equipment and related services that may justify different rates,” Waldack said.
Public Works Director Rony Joel said that part of the reason for the differing rates is the ease in reading a master meter versus an individual meter.
“That logic may be acceptable for water consumption, but not for sewer waste disposal,” said Petricca.
Joel said the rate structures are computed based on several variables and due to the complexity will take time to study. Public Resources Management Group is to present a rate structure study early next year.
“I would encourage addressing the issue as soon as reasonably possible,” Waldack said.
Former City Councilman John Arceri, also a member of the utility advisory committee, said the committee was to stay focused on recommending utility project priorities and an approximate amount of money the utility needs.
“Our mission was to advise how much revenue is needed, not how to get it.”
Arceri added that there wouldn’t be time for the committee to meet a Nov. 9 deadline for a report to Council on how to most equitably charge for water and waste water.
“The committee was advised to keep on point and to avoid going off on tangents and to keep the committee focused on the subject task at hand,” Waldack said.
It’s typical for utilities, whether city-run or corporately-managed, to have varying rates amongst customer categories, Arceri said.
“There is never a complete resolution of inequities since there are so many variables to consider.”
Some of those variables include less pipe and associated maintenance with a master meter set up than with equivalent single family units.
“In addition, there is only one meter for dozens of living units in a master metered complex, which means a) less meter maintenance; b) less meter reading and c) less bills to be computed, mailed out and collected.”
Despite the reported complexities, many residents said now is the time to look at the rate structure, particularly condo rates versus single family home rates.
Chairman Rob Popoff had said with complaints from one particular resident being so rare, he hoped to heed the recommendation resident Richard Shoen had made to Council at their October 19 meeting.
Schoen, a single family home owner on Marco for many years, wanted Council to address the issue before the end of the year so that there was no excuse that condominiums’ budgets were already set.
“The condo people have their associations, but us private homeowners don’t have anything,” Schoen had said. Popoff promised Schoen that he would find answers.
Popoff said he is in the process of compiling information on the rate differences and plans to report back during a joint workshop between Council and the utility committee scheduled Nov. 9.
“This is definitely a tough topic that we need to address.”
The utility committee is scheduled to meet 2:30 p.m. Thursday in the lower level City Hall conference room, 50 Bald Eagle Drive, to prepare their report to Council on the total amount of money the city utility needs for the next two years.