MARCO ISLAND — A discussion about making utility rates more equitable on Marco Island Monday afternoon turned to a proposition for the city to get bids for private management for the city department instead.
City Council has charged an ad hoc utility committee with developing a new water and wastewater rate structure to make costs among different customer types more equitable.
Wastewater rates are particularly inequitable when comparing single family users with condominium users, said Ken Honecker, the committee chairman.
Council didn’t decide on the best approach to adjusting the rates, but provided its general consensus that a combination of a higher base rate, which is the monthly charge that stays the same regardless of usage, and charging a minimum usage, such as 4,000 gallons of water monthly, were among their preferences.
A recommendation by resident Monte Lazarus, who serves on the Planning Board and has served on several other city and community committees, was heeded by the majority of council members.
Lazarus suggested the city get bids from consultants to offer increased efficiencies in the plant’s operations and get bids to hire a private firm to manage the utility. The utility, now managed by Director Rony Joel, has an annual budget of approximately $48 million and was purchased by the city from a private firm, Florida Water Services, in 2003.
Residents in attendance questioned if council was getting off topic and delaying a controversial decision on long-standing inequities.
“You can’t eat an elephant all in one bite,” said resident Roger Hall.
Hall maintained that inequities needed to be addressed no matter who managed the utility, adding that discussions of selling it was just smoke.
“We’re contracting the operation. We’re not selling it ... yet,” Magel said.
“This is thorough analysis not getting caught up in smoke,” Recker added.
Councilman Bill Trotter suggested the committee and council still work toward addressing inequities by October.
Gibson was concerned that rate structure changes were being rushed and could perhaps wait another year. In the meantime, he suggested moving forward with Magel’s preference to hire a consultant to offer potential utility operations savings and Lazarus’s proposal to get bids on the management of the utility.
“We’re going to continue on with what we know are inequalities now for another year?” Kiester asked rhetorically. “Heck no.”
The committee is to move forward with suggesting rate structure changes while bids for a consultant and a management firm are also to be sought, per general consensus during the workshop.