Marco Island City Council has more questions for consultant regarding utility costs

— During a three-hour special meeting on Monday, Marco Island City Council and Utility Advisory Board (UAB) members said they want the consulting firm hired to answer more of their questions before setting utility rates for Island residents.

In May, Mike Burton of Burton and Associates reported his findings to council members, suggesting that residents be charged for water and sewer based on usage and capacity. Based on his calculations, many residents would see a decrease in their water and sewer bills, but residents who use more water would most likely wind up with a higher burden. However, Burton also told councilors that he personally favored a “debt service base charge,” or a flat fee, for residents based on the island’s size and seasonal nature.

Councilman William Trotter told the gathering that administering a base charge would be a “fiscally stable” approach and one that is used by many municipalities across the state.

“Were all stakeholders in this,” said Trotter, explaining that because of that, everyone should pay equally.

However, Councilman Larry Magel used the analogy of purchasing a car: One couple might buy a two-seater for their use, while a larger family might require a mini-van. For that reason, he stated, individuals who use more should have to pay more.

Trotter retorted that utility customers are paying for the “cost to serve,” just as a phone customer would still pay a monthly bill even if they did not use their phone during that time.

Other questions council members want the consultant to answer are whether a customer charge of $2 or $3 should be implemented; whether the price of reuse/reclaimed water should be set at least 50 percent of the new irrigation rate; and whether a monthly rate for vacant lots should be charged.

The city’s bond attorney, Mark Lawson, a former Marco Island resident, said charging vacant lot owners for water and sewer usage could provide the city with a much-needed cash windfall. However, Lawson added that if vacant lot owners were to be charged a special assessment, the city could not “double-dip” and charge those owners a second assessment.

Councilor Joe Batte stated concern that asking so many additional questions may give the perception to residents that council is unhappy with the consultant’s report and is manipulating the outcome to meet its liking, although he noted that he does not believe that to be the case.

“We have the tough job to set up policy and taxpayers expect us to set up something that’s fair and equitable” he said.

“We had a professional study by professional consultants,” Batte continued. “This is what these people do. They have credibility and can stand up to legal challenges. This study needs to be our constitution going forward.”

Council chairman Jerry Gibson agreed.

“It’s a good report,” he said. “Anything that we’re asking is just to clarify the report.”

But council and UAB members acknowledged that many residents will be dissatisfied, regardless of the changes made and that local lawmakers will have to deal with perceptions that one group of residents is being favored over another.

Trotter noted that the city’s utility budget is larger than its general fund budget and that the average single family homeowner pays 60 percent more for their water/sewer bill than they do for city taxes. “It’s a big part of our resident’s expense,” he said. For those reason, Trotter believes that it’s imperative for the council take its time before deciding utility rates.

The city will formally pose its questions to Burton and Associates. A date has not yet been set for the firm’s reply.

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Comments » 12

GFonda writes:

As I stated over 6 months ago, the debt costs should NOT be buried in the base rate, but should see "the light of day" and be visible - preferably on our property tax bill which may be tax deductible. I also believe all property owners should pay for the debt - probably equally.

u2cane writes:

in response to islandeye1#236971:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

If we disagree with their decisions, we need to have people run and get elected that aren't good ole boys, but I don't see anyone else running. Seems to me like no matter who runs, new or old, everyone on Marco says they are part of the "good ole boy" network. Well, somebody has to be outside of this network or is it y'all just like to complain?

deltarome writes:

I was "shocked" to hear that Larry Magel is pushing to lower condo water bills and raise those of all the other users.
My cell phone plan has a base charge regardless if I use any minutes. My cable bill is the same whether I watch TV 24 hrs a day or none at all.

boydston1845 writes:

The water/sewer rate discussion has gone on long enough. We now have an excellent cost of service study that takes a lot of the emotion and related rhetoric out of the game. Stick to the facts and establish rates based on usage. After that it would be a good idea to take a look a why costs of operating a water utility for Marco have risen so rapidly. In other words stop debating who will pay, and shift the focus to controlling or even reducing actual costs.

Jim boydston

dc5799 writes:

in response to deltarome:

I was "shocked" to hear that Larry Magel is pushing to lower condo water bills and raise those of all the other users.
My cell phone plan has a base charge regardless if I use any minutes. My cable bill is the same whether I watch TV 24 hrs a day or none at all.

Why would you be shocked he is a condo owner. Do the condo owners pay all the charges I pay being a single home owner? I did not vote for the strp it was shoved down my throat.
The condo owners voted it in and I hope it gets shoved down their whatever. Magel is not looking out for my best interest just his Hideaway cronies.

happy6 writes:

simple...what a bunch of idiots and embarassment for all of marco residents...the whole bunch needs to be replaced.

ajm3s writes:

in response to deltarome:

I was "shocked" to hear that Larry Magel is pushing to lower condo water bills and raise those of all the other users.
My cell phone plan has a base charge regardless if I use any minutes. My cable bill is the same whether I watch TV 24 hrs a day or none at all.

I suspect Mr. Magel does not like the debt service to be divied up across all property owners, since it might show how much over capacity is now to be repaid regardless if we use water/sewer or not.

In my view, the big utility cannot sell all its capacity so Mr. Magel wants to divvy it up based primarily on current users. But is not capacity a benefit or cost to future users, but its present cost to them is 0. Is that fair within the framework or view of capacity?

I would like to have a simple "use it then pay it", but the overcapacity issue changed the equation to such an extent it distorts and creates a disadvantage to current users. And then there is the disadvantage of inaccessiblity to low cost water to the largest users of potable water as a class? I guess single family homeowners are disadvantaged on several fronts.

Policy is the answer, not probing the cost of service. So to my Counci, the council of past must now be dealt with the council today.

Time for Council to carry the water and do your job. No need to hide behind a cost of service or probe for "answers".

Because "fair and equitable" is quite a catchy phrase until you actually have to do some heavy lifting, especially with all this overcapacity.

EdFoster writes:

While living on Marco, I purposely turned off all irrigation for several months. My water usage dropped below 3,000 gallons per month. Now, in North Carolina where I rarely need to irrigate, my water usage averages less than 3,000 gallons per month.

A thought: if we can assume that average personal usage for a single-family homeowner maxes out at 3,000 gallons a month, whatever usage the meter indicates above that amount is for irrigation. Since one class of homeowners (condo dwellers) get reuse water for irrigation at a reduced rate and another class (single-family homeowners) do not and actually are the source of reuse water others get for a reduced rate, why not LOWER the rate for single-family homeowners who use over 2,500 - 3,000 gallons to the "reuse rate" (for that matter, even give them a credit for being good citizens and providing reuse water to others!) and then calculate what the resuse rate would have to be to make the system financially sound? Would be an interesting exercise and it seems fair to me at first blush. Essentially you'd have a "personal use" rate which applies to the first 2,500 - 3,000 gallons) and a "irrigation use" rate that applies to everyone equally. Just a thought!

II understand that it was not financially feasible to install reuse lines to single-family homes when the STRP was installed, but not doing so created two classes of citizens: those who had always pooped in the city potty and gotten their effluent back to water their lawns; and, those who were forced to use the city potty whether they wanted to or not and do NOT get their effluent back to water their lawns.

Ed Foster
Former Marco Resident

blogsmog writes:

The Marco homeowners should start a class action suit in Federal court against the city.
The fact it hasn't happened yet is amazing.

Is_It_True_Partially_True_Or_Not_True (Inactive) writes:

in response to deltarome:

I was "shocked" to hear that Larry Magel is pushing to lower condo water bills and raise those of all the other users.
My cell phone plan has a base charge regardless if I use any minutes. My cable bill is the same whether I watch TV 24 hrs a day or none at all.

Who do you think are the people who voted Magel into office? It was that "D*mned* bullet voting, (Single Voting) by the Condo owners. Now he is paying back for those votes.
How soon we all forget!

Is_It_True_Partially_True_Or_Not_True (Inactive) writes:



RU-Marco writes:

I guess if my comments are do not meet this newspaper editors desires, they don't get published. I thought this is America. This is my 3rd attempt to comment on an issue. So far I have been screened out.

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