New vote on water rates makes dollars and cents for homeowners

— If you have an individual water meter here on Marco Island, your monthly bill is about to get $25 smaller starting Jan. 1. In the face of a 10.5 percent increase mandated by bond insurers, and fees from the septic tank replacement program, it may not seem like much. However, the new rate structure represents months of preparation and public input by the city’s Utility Advisory Board (UAB), and much political wrangling between condominiums, commercial interests and single-family homeowners.

The bonds issued on the city’s debt from the 2003 purchase of the water utility require a 10.5 percent rate hike in 2011. The UAB studied various ways to implement the increase and spent the summer presenting the options to the community.

On Aug. 16, the UAB presented its recommendations to City Council, arguing in part, for a plan that would break down the debt evenly across the board. Under the current plan, homes and single-metered condominiums pay around $22 for that fee, while master meter condos pay just $3, one of the disparities that led homeowners to complain that their high rates were subsidizing larger condos and hotels.

Instead of implementing a plan, council voted to spend $50,000 on an outside consultant to study the UAB’s data and draw, in the terms of Councilor Wayne Waldack, an “independent” conclusion, setting off extensive public criticism for the Council’s disregard of the UAB’s work.

Finally, at the Sept. 7 Council meeting, Chairman Frank Recker reconsidered his vote and proposed that Council adopt the UAB’s flat rate structure ahead of the cost of service study.

“After that vote, I continued to think long and hard about our decision, and I questioned myself about waiting to implement at least a sewer fee adjustment as Bill Trotter had urged prior to our vote. As he stated, we could take a step towards a more equitable rate structure now.”

Recker also believed the UAB’s data analysis and the public input they collected should not be set aside .

According to Amadeo Petricca, the UAB’s vice chair, the average homeowner now sees a $55 charge each month on their water bill. It comes from a sewer use fee of about $29 plus a base fee of $25 that pays down the bond debt. The new base rate will charge a use fee of $29 for sewer charges and nothing more.

“Come Jan. 1, they (master meter condos) pay their fair share. The burden is reduced for single family and individual-metered condos,” says Petricca. Each unit in the master meter condos will now pay $29 per month.

Chairman Recker added that as a result of the change, some condominiums will see rates decrease, others an increase. Larger commercial institutions such as hotels which will likely experience an increase in wastewater charges of about 20 percent. Recker stands behind the change because “there has been virtually unanimous agreement that sewer charges assessed to the single-family homeowners were inequitable when compared with the other groups.”

The yearly savings on a water bill for a homeowner will be about $300.

The cost of service study called for by Council has the potential to address further inequities in water use, according to Councilman Larry Magel.

“You will see a greater disparity on the water side,” he stated while arguing against the change in rates. “We need to look at the whole picture, not just give a sop to homeowners.”

Bill McMullen is one such homeowner and longtime resident who was pleased to see Council take action on the UAB’s plan to evenly distribute the debt.

“I think the Council was inundated by calls from Marcoites after the first vote to address the sewer base rate inequity issue which could be implemented immediately. It would have little, if any, impact on the rate study that will take place over the next few months. The rate study can be addressed when completed and further adjustments can be implemented at any time during the year.”

The study will bear watching for everyone who pays a city water bill as it seeks to explain who should pay what for water. Within the master meter condos themselves lies another tangle of unfairly distributed fees that the UAB pointed out.

“Seventy-five percent of the residents don’t live in those condos year-round, but they are subsidizing the water for those who do live there year-round because everybody shares in the average,” says Petricca.

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Comments » 13

deltarome writes:

The author is a bit confused. This only applies to WASTEWATER charges, not potable water.
Water bill rates will go up an average of 10.5% for everyone. But, if you are on a master meter in a condo, you will now pay the same base rate as an individual metered condo and same as all homeowner. Those who had bargain rates in master metered condos fought hard to keep them that way. Magel is upset that his condo power base now has to pay same as individual homeowners who were forced to hook up to sewer and pay to rebuild the sewer plant that mainly served the condos.

ajm3s writes:

I thought it was interesting to hear Mr. Magel at the last council meeting actually point out the consultant that worked with the UAB provided information and a recommendation that was not accurate considering he was also a consultant for Collier County water.

Did not Mr. Brown in a past blog point out that a consultant will provide the information required to meet your goals. Do we now have an actual real life example?

Or did I miss something? And now we need to hire another consultant for cost of service because we never ascertained the cost of service? Yet, Mr. Magel participated in all the discussions during the board meetings, and we did not raise our concerns while on the board? I am confused. Please help me. I listened to the council meeting two times and I do not get it.

Sometimes, I really am a simpleton.

deltarome writes:

The comment by Brown was orchestrated by MMM. Their power base is mostly made up of those condo owners who would benefit from the status quo. Magel attended most all of the UAB meetings and never mentioned he desired a COS study, which is rarely done for water users.
MMM member Arceri who is an ex electric utility employee, waited as long as possible before he thru out the COS idea, figuring it would delay the rate increases for at least another year.
Recker was right to immediately (Jan 1) correct the huge disparity on the sewer side and wait for water evaluations which will take at least 8 months to produce.

marcofriend writes:

in response to deltarome:

The comment by Brown was orchestrated by MMM. Their power base is mostly made up of those condo owners who would benefit from the status quo. Magel attended most all of the UAB meetings and never mentioned he desired a COS study, which is rarely done for water users.
MMM member Arceri who is an ex electric utility employee, waited as long as possible before he thru out the COS idea, figuring it would delay the rate increases for at least another year.
Recker was right to immediately (Jan 1) correct the huge disparity on the sewer side and wait for water evaluations which will take at least 8 months to produce.

You comment as to what Brown said doesn't make sense considering his commentary in "the other paper" on the island a couple weeks ago (or I missed some blogs). Recker screwed up by not thinking this through at the Sept 7th meeting and it should have been implemented Oct 1 of this year while they do their study and should not have waited until Jan 1. At least he figured out his error and corrected it.

OldMarcoMan writes:

Hum, Frank was for it before he was aginst it once again

OldMarcoMan writes:

Frank has a LONG history of telling people what they want to hear and then voting the 'powers that be' way.

Then telling the people he was for them in the press.

I'm always reminded of the Hydra speaking out of both sides of its mouths.

captnjimbo writes:

"some condominiums will see a rate decrease, others will see an increase". What kind of mumbo jumbo is that?

marcoislander writes:

klabermouth do you ever make any sense on your blogs {which is on every subject] you must think your a real mister know it all.

deltarome writes:

Captn, Reason for confusion is that there are two types of condos. Condos on individual meters will see a drop, as will homeowners. This is because many of the master meter condos will see an increase.
The rates are designed to raise the same total revenue.
Some master meter condos pay less than 4 dollars a month for minimum charge while home owners and individual metered condos pay over $29 a month.
Seems fair to me!
Even better......
Commercial users like the Marriott were paying about $5 a month for sewer AND water for each room that is occupied almost all the time!

MarcoJimbo writes:

I thought the UAB's purpose was to keep utility rates as low as possible. Instead, it has been hoodwinked into providing ever increasing revenues to a utility that refuses to live within its means. We should turn an eye toward conservation, which would reduce utility operating costs, since less water would have to be treated. Rain sensors for sprinkler systems are one way of doing this. (How often do you see a lawn being watered less than a day after it was rained on?) Many utilities give them away to customers to reduce demand on their plant and equipment. Not MIU though, make no mistake, they make money SELLING water, not SAVING it. They've got plenty of Capital Projects lined-up to increase production capacity, and it will be the UAB's responsibility to concoct a convoluted scheme to get you and I to pay for them.

ajm3s writes:

in response to MarcoJimbo:

I thought the UAB's purpose was to keep utility rates as low as possible. Instead, it has been hoodwinked into providing ever increasing revenues to a utility that refuses to live within its means. We should turn an eye toward conservation, which would reduce utility operating costs, since less water would have to be treated. Rain sensors for sprinkler systems are one way of doing this. (How often do you see a lawn being watered less than a day after it was rained on?) Many utilities give them away to customers to reduce demand on their plant and equipment. Not MIU though, make no mistake, they make money SELLING water, not SAVING it. They've got plenty of Capital Projects lined-up to increase production capacity, and it will be the UAB's responsibility to concoct a convoluted scheme to get you and I to pay for them.

Is our water utility a remake of the movie "The Money Pit" with Tom Hanks?

MarcoJimbo writes:

If it were only a movie...unfortunately it's reality. Look at MIU's Capital Improvement Program for the next 5 years. It includes: $2.38M for Water Pipe Upgrades, $4.0M for Surface Water Treatment Capacity Increase at the North Plant, and $3.1M for other Water Projects. The WasteWater program is equally superfluous, but being paid for by single family homeowners who neither needed nor wanted the STRP. Utility service demand is not increasing like it was 5 years ago, nor is it likely to any time soon. Let's make Marco attractive again by making it affordable, you know, the way it used to be.

ajm3s writes:

in response to MarcoJimbo:

If it were only a movie...unfortunately it's reality. Look at MIU's Capital Improvement Program for the next 5 years. It includes: $2.38M for Water Pipe Upgrades, $4.0M for Surface Water Treatment Capacity Increase at the North Plant, and $3.1M for other Water Projects. The WasteWater program is equally superfluous, but being paid for by single family homeowners who neither needed nor wanted the STRP. Utility service demand is not increasing like it was 5 years ago, nor is it likely to any time soon. Let's make Marco attractive again by making it affordable, you know, the way it used to be.

New market campaign for attracting tourists and new residents from the Marco Island Tourism Association (I will elect myself President).

"Come to our island and enjoy the warm tropical breezes; for an active lifestyle with boating, golf, bicycling, jogging. And quench your thirst with a taste of Marco Island for the same price as those chic bottled waters but with the convenience of delivery to your tap. We are here to serve you. Ah! so refreshing."

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