MARCO ISLAND — Marco Island’s Utility Advisory Board met with citizens Tuesday evening in the Community Room at the city government complex to discuss water and wastewater rate increases. The focus was on condominium owners, and their focus was on making sure they don’t get hit with more than their share of the bill.
After Board Chairman Ken Honecker laid out the plan on how the proposed new rates will be assessed, speaker after speaker rose to argue that the “4,000 Plan” backed by the Utility Advisory Board will unfairly burden those residents living in condos.
Two members of the board were absent, but Honecker and Vice Chairman Amadeo Petricca presided, joined at the dais by member Richard Bergmann, who mostly sat silent. Honecker laid out the group’s proposed alterations to the current rate structure. Under this “4,000 Plan,” each residence would be charged a flat rate for up to 4,000 gallons, with additional usage charged by volume. The alternative is a flat 10.5 percent increase.
The calculations were convoluted, enough to make you wish you had paid closer attention in junior high math class, but the bottom line was clear: rates are going up. Over 90 percent of customers use over 4,000 gallons of water each month, said Honecker.
The new plan is an attempt to correct imbalances in the current rate structure, and direction from the City Council caused them to take this approach, he said. Debt service on the utility purchase costs between $9 million and $10 million annually, he said.
Although water usage varies widely over the course of the year, capacity must be in place to provide for the time of peak usage, typically in March with the most people on the island, and lawn watering in full force, said Honecker.
“We have to be ‘ready to serve,’ to build the plant and keep it running” for that time of maximum usage, he said. Petricca added that the plant was not in good shape when the city bought the facility, and that necessary upgrades are in the works.
With the floor opened to public comment, Dick Riegler said the base rate plan proposed by the board “was in vogue many years ago, but utilities are getting away from that.” He urged conducting a study to measure peak use, and accurately allocate usage among different classes of users.
Like a number of members of the public who spoke, Joe Granda thanked the board for their service before detailing what he thought they could do differently or better.
The former committee member said, “if I were on the board, I would be working to bring costs down” before looking for rate increases. “I don’t want to pay an additional 10 and a half percent.”
Condo owner Alberta Granowski — most of the speakers were condominium owners or managers — told the board, “you use the terms ‘fair and equitable’ a lot. Fair, equitable and discriminatory doesn’t meet my standards.” Later she chided the board members for not appearing to take notes. Honecker pointed there is a video record of the meeting, and invited her to help transcribe it, and Fay Biles said she had verbatim notes for the Civic Association newsletter.
Janet O’Connell, a retired schoolteacher, said that if rates keep climbing, “people are just not going to pay,” and added the island shouldn’t have become a city.
George Fonda made the point that condominiums, with just one water meter for up to hundreds of residences, are much more efficient for the city to deal with. “You have one meter to read, to bill, and to maintain,” he said, and that should translate to a lower cost to the condo units. “It’s not fair to pick on one class of users.”
John Arceri, a 33-year veteran of the utility industry who “was on the team when we bought the utility,” said the city would be paying more and have no control had they not purchased it from Florida Cities. He agreed the first priority should be holding costs down.
Derrick Beebe, speaking, he said, on behalf of the 136 condominium owners of Monterey, said charging a flat fee for the first 4,000 gallons of water used per month does not promote conservation. Petricca noted that on average, the Cape Marco condos use over 7,000 gallons per month. Condominiums, he said, use water for cooling towers, pools and irrigation that does not show up in the consumption of individual units.
Additional meetings are scheduled at the Community Room, on July 21 for single family homes, and on July 28 for commercial enterprises. On July 29, IberiaBank on Bald Eagle Drive will host an “In the Round” discussion open to all, on the subject of utility rates.