MARCO ISLAND — Members of the Utilities Advisory Board were reticent to create a meeting schedule for 2012, but reluctantly did so on Wednesday.
In a surprise action, Marco Island city councilors decided on Monday to discuss disbanding the board at their Jan. 9 meeting. Doing so would remove the only board, other than council, overseeing millions of dollars for the city’s largest utilities.
Ken Honecker, chairman of the utility board, rebuffed council’s disparaging remarks about the “bean counter” mentality of the board. He said council had no clue how much time and expertise the board put into its work.
“We’re all engineers here,” Honecker said, “We know what we’re doing. There’s no way council is going to go into as much detail and ask as many questions as we can.”
Of the five-member board, most are engineers. One member works globally and flies into the area to attend board meetings.
Amadeo Petricca said he was the bean counter in the council’s inference, but noted he had a lifetime of experience in industry, handling large purchases and contracts, and protecting return on investments.
Board member William Porter pointed to the immense challenge of understanding technical specifications and the value of having third party review.
“These utilities are diverse enough, large enough and expensive enough to need a central board or manager,” Porter said. “They can’t be run just by the city council.”
Despite the cloud of uncertainty, the utilities board conducted its business.
In 2011, more than 100 areas of the city fell outside the required 1,000 feet for fire hydrant service, said Public Works Director Tim Pinter. During the year, seven new hydrants, including line extension pipes, were installed at a cost of $65,000. Another 25 hydrants were added as part of the Septic Tank Replacement Program.
The new hydrants were not in the utilities’ budget but were purchased through its capital improvements renewal and replacement funds. The city budgeted $250,000 in 2012 for 45 additional hydrants. Work will be done by Marco’s utilities department.
The first areas to be addressed in 2012 will be the oldest sections of the island along Marco River. The city purchased a tapping machine to accelerate the process of adding branches to the existing system. Even though the system is pressurized, the tapping machine allows tie-ins without service interruptions.
The utilities board approved three change orders. The first for $45,000 added fire sprinklers and an alarm system to a recently constructed portable generator shelter. Since the 4,800-square-foot building exceeds city minimums, fire equipment was required before a Certificate of Occupancy could be issued.
“There’s a lesson to be learned here,” said Petricca, “We should have a check-off list to abide by ordinances and codes.”
A change order for $1,645 added a ventilation port to an IT equipment storage closet in one waste water plant. And the city saved $42,500 on fewer strainers at the north treatment plant since they will not be needed with the incoming PALL membrane system.
The utilities board tentatively scheduled its next meeting for Jan. 11, and after council’s Jan. 9 meeting. The board meets in City Hall’s 1st floor conference room.