Utilities, again – Marco Island City Council workshop delves into water and sewer issues

— City Council held a workshop Wednesday, as they continue to grapple with utility rates and costs, one of the most contentious, longstanding, and certainly one of the most complex issues they face

Meeting from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. around a U-shaped group of tables in front of the dais in the council chambers, the governing body made no decisions, took no votes, but rather sought information. The first half of the session featured city water and sewer rate consultant Mike Burton of Burton & Associates, in the room, along with his associate Andrew Burnham, "the numbers guy," as Burton said, on the phone from Tampa. Also literally given a seat at the table was former councilor Dr. Bill Trotter, who championed equitable utility rates.

"We have to have Burton run calculations with actual numbers," said councilor Larry Magel. "I don't want to make rate decisions based on hypotheticals."

Much of the conversation involved how best to calculate the rates, recognizing that, as Burton and Burnham reiterated over and over in various formulations, it is an inexact science, and you are always behind, looking at previous data while trying to figure future costs and cost-sharing.

"One year you do a rate design, and the next year, you know what happened in reality," said Burton.

This issue pits condo owners against single family homes, commercial against residential, big users against small, year 'round residents against snowbirds, and large consumers against those who do their best to economize.

It also, to some extent, pits the council against their rate consultant, as the two sides sparred in polite fashion about what was included in the scope of work already contracted, and what studies would incur additional cost for the city.

"What would the cost be to inject the most current data into the M54 (rate plan)?" asked council chairman Joe Batte after a break, adding, "I thought we were getting that."

Burton pointed out that the current scope of work "proposal has no work sessions with the council. Would you like me to add them?" he asked.

"The M54 is almost perfect, but the low-volume guy gets really hurt with this concept," said councilor Ken Honecker, who has been a leading voice in the utility rate discussions, and may be one of the few who truly understands all the issues involved.

For most, admittedly not utility rate experts, the litany of base facility charges, rate sufficiency, reapportionment, projected revenue, and going forward basis can be numbing, to the point where its difficult to follow the differing viewpoints, although each side, condo and single family, residential and commercial, water misers and heavy users, have compelling arguments why their position is the only logical answer.

After dealing with rate structures, the council members spent the second half of the meeting hearing a "wish list" of projects in the Capital Improvement Program, or CIP, from Utilities Director Jeff Poteet, along with Public Works Director Tim Pinter. The litany of "must do" items, mandated by state and Federal government requirements, and "should do" expenditures, typically projected to save much more money down the line if they are undertaken, helped explain why so much money is necessary to ensure that water flows when you turn on your tap, and sewage disappears when you flush your toilet.

Projects ranged from the replacement of actuating valves at a cost of $25,000, to fire hydrant replacement for $115,000, vehicle replacement at $128,000, ongoing manhole repairs of the city's 833 manholes at $125,000 annually, to replacement of backup supply pumps at $1,200,000, which however nets down to $900,000 in city funds after a $300,000 grant from the South Florida Water Management District.

One item, a camera/grout truck for $250,000, enables staff to clean, video inspect and repair sewer lines underground, work that must otherwise be contracted out at a cost of $2 per foot. With 460,641 linear feet of sewer piping on Marco, Poteet and Pinter touted the cost saving of performing the work in-house.

Altogether, CIP items included 11 projects funded by the Renew and Replace Fund for $1,528,000, five projects funded by the Capital Reserve Fund for $340,000, and nine projects totaling $3,070,000 which "need alternative funding," per staff's presentation.

Eventually, councilor Larry Honig became fed up.

"I'm used to seeing this is what we can spend now, and this is what we save. I'm going to go on the attack a little bit," he said. "I want to see 'make versus buy.'"

The City Council will take up the utility rate question, or rather questions, for there are many, at their next regular council meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 19, in council chambers.

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Comments » 16

1Paradiselost writes:

The last home I lived in the town water was $27.50 a YEAR, 10 years ago!. That's right a year!

There was no meter so could use all that was needed.

Now that same town water in 2013 is $35.70 a year.

Has anyone noticed how Marco Island before the city bought the water company looked so lush and green?

What you see now are properties that stopped watering all together and have weed lawns.

But don't worry housing prices will rebound in 5 years and you won't have to worry about overpriced water.

OldMarcoMan writes:

Did your old City have a Billion Dollars in Water and Sewer Bonds that no one wants to pay for?

1Paradiselost writes:

in response to OldMarcoMan:

Did your old City have a Billion Dollars in Water and Sewer Bonds that no one wants to pay for?

No they did not!

Matter of fact... When they brought the gas line down the street in 2000. None of the property owners had to pay one thin dime for the digging of the pipe or the street repairs!

If you wanted to hook up it was up to you. The town did not fine anyone for not hooking up.

lauralbi1 writes:

Sounds like a place you should move back to !!!

Let us know how things are now when you move back there.

Northerner writes:

I'm a MI part timer but have been looking to buy a home and eventually retire there. Now that prices have come down to our price point we can finally afford to buy one but have been afraid to pull the trigger because of the expensive utilities we've been hearing about.Water is $40/1000gal...is that right? Can anybody give me a monthly guesstimate on the other utilities.

1Paradiselost writes:

in response to lauralbi1:

Sounds like a place you should move back to !!!

Let us know how things are now when you move back there.

I still own that property Ed!

What's the matter Mister Ed don't like anyone exposing the truth about the former political leaders of this island..

It was your friends that ran this city into a $250,000,000.00 (Yea that's MILLION) financial hole.

It's behavior of people like you who lack common sense that make me at times regret ever living here!

How many good people have we known who moved here with good intentions, then moved somewhere else after finding out what this place was really like?

Sorry Ed... trying to kill the messenger won't change the truth about you and your friends who financially destroyed this Island.

Northerner...

You can expect to pay $175.00 to $200.00 or more a month to the city for water and sewer. Our water and sewer department is unregulated because the city bought it. What that means to you is they can raise the price as high as they like without any over site..

Normally utility's have to meet in front of the public service commission (PSC) to get approval for any rate increase. However cities who buy their water company's are exempt from that rule here in Florida. So guess what.. time to grab your ankles.

DON'T Buy here on Marco, RENT. If you like the island rent a house or condo. There are so many houses & condos on the market you can name your own price.

Do the math for a year....

$2,000 to 2,700 for water and sewer.
$2,500 to cool your home.
$4,000 to $7,000 a year for flood and wind insurance.
$600.00 a year to spray your house for bugs.
$3,000 a year for someone to take care of your lawn and pool.

That's $10,000 to $12,000 a year to say you live/own here. RENT! have the landlord pay for most of those items.

If you looking for a job forget it unless you like being paid minimum wage or a couple of dollars more. Or you like driving over 70 miles a day round trip.

The people who live here didn't get here because of their generosity.

If moving here You better bring a large bank account of cash because your going to need every dollar!

People who live here know what's above is the TRUTH!

ajm3s writes:

in response to 1Paradiselost:

The last home I lived in the town water was $27.50 a YEAR, 10 years ago!. That's right a year!

There was no meter so could use all that was needed.

Now that same town water in 2013 is $35.70 a year.

Has anyone noticed how Marco Island before the city bought the water company looked so lush and green?

What you see now are properties that stopped watering all together and have weed lawns.

But don't worry housing prices will rebound in 5 years and you won't have to worry about overpriced water.

Elasticity!

ajm3s writes:

We have lists of capital improvements that include the expansion of ASSETS. We need to recognize the fact that a $400K rescue boat preceded this presentation and was approved by council several weeks ago. Bear in mind, there never was a less expansive alternative presented because the needs and wants were intermingled with a manufacturer's specification.

So now we have a similar asset request of similar character, in the sense Mr. Pinter has been bringing this request before council for the past 5 years (vs. Mr. Murphy's 6 year request for a fire boat). Yes, a camera/grout truck for $250,000 under review.

Interestingly, Mr. Honig's exchange was more in keeping with my experience in challenging a proposal etc. But, this was NOT the case a mere 4-6 weeks earlier with the fire boat proposal since we did not challenge the proposal on a need basis, etc.

I will take this as a positive development in council review and a new milestone, for both Mr. Honig and I are fed up!

As to the discussion with the water/rate consultant, it was clear to me that they, the consultants were here to stand their ground while supporting their position with what I understood to be gobblygoop.

I find it interesting, Mr. Magel is frustrated with the constant request by the city public works director/staff for more improvements given monies spent with engineering consultants which Mr. Magel believes should have included in their report. While in the same meeting, I am hearing the council discussing more monies for a water rate consultant that some Councillors thought was included in the original contract.

When will the city learn, if you wish to have efficient use of consultants you must use them judiciously, which requires a great deal of knowledge to which the city is limited, ie. city manager. I do not wish to be so critical, but he does not say much.

Just listen to the confusion as to the contract with the consultant for COS and rate structure.

I would have expected a clarification or statement from the city manager, but again he was closemouthed. I sometimes wonder if the purchase orders for services are ever reviewed. Based on comments from the city manager, I have to say, silence is the answer, unless as the city manager cites so often, he works for the pleasure of the board.

2themoon writes:

in response to lauralbi1:

Sounds like a place you should move back to !!!

Let us know how things are now when you move back there.

Ed, whats the matter did the price of cheap silver go up this week?

lauralbi1 writes:

Hey, just do comparisons to other cities before you all throw stones. We are not large farmland that can exist using Septic Tanks. But that argument has already been solved.

We are a small city, and as such the burden of utilities is spread so ever thin amongst a limited number of us. Read above and you will see those that would blame others for what is reality, not frivolous spending.

One day I suggest we hold a workshop and do nothing but look into what other coastal cities about the same size as Marco are doing, what their costs are for all services and utilities and see if we are higher, lower or the same and what we can do to improve on any budget or expenditure items.

We are not the only city our size and there are many that offer different comparative scenarios that we may be able to learn from or at least realize that we MIGHT not be out of line with costs.

How about it, anyone else care to learn ?? Seems more meaningful than just rambling in a blog !!!

Ed Issler

Northerner writes:

Thanks Paradise...advice well taken. I think I will head over the bridge to buy.

ajm3s writes:

in response to lauralbi1:

Hey, just do comparisons to other cities before you all throw stones. We are not large farmland that can exist using Septic Tanks. But that argument has already been solved.

We are a small city, and as such the burden of utilities is spread so ever thin amongst a limited number of us. Read above and you will see those that would blame others for what is reality, not frivolous spending.

One day I suggest we hold a workshop and do nothing but look into what other coastal cities about the same size as Marco are doing, what their costs are for all services and utilities and see if we are higher, lower or the same and what we can do to improve on any budget or expenditure items.

We are not the only city our size and there are many that offer different comparative scenarios that we may be able to learn from or at least realize that we MIGHT not be out of line with costs.

How about it, anyone else care to learn ?? Seems more meaningful than just rambling in a blog !!!

Ed Issler

Find a $400K fire rescue boat for the size of Marco Island?

1Paradiselost writes:

in response to Northerner:

Thanks Paradise...advice well taken. I think I will head over the bridge to buy.

Your welcome!

If I were better informed I to would have bought property off the island also. But the city stuck it to us because they paid to much for the broken down water company.

ED... the price of housing here will fall even more once informed buyers start asking the bottom line questions.

Paying $200.00 a month for water and sewer should be against the law. Someone should be put in jail for this blunder to the residents of this city.

The realtors should be required to inform all customers in writing what "ALL" costs are including utilities, wind and flood insurance, lawn & pool care, and the labor rates to repair household items to buyers before they go to contract.

Below... are two different links to the water rates in 30 cities across the country.

Please let us know how they compare to what your paying now!

http://www.circleofblue.org/waternews...

http://www.circleofblue.org/waternews...

MrBreeze writes:

We all know that the water rates are a complete ripoff. If the City had any sense they would have laid re-use water lines along side the sewer mains for STRP. I would have gladly paid some monies towards that for irrigation purposes.

Ideas like that make to much sense although I do believe it is run on Collier to make the main drag look green and lush.

1Paradiselost writes:

A nice idea.. Unfortunately their concern was making money, Not saving residents money.

As I said before... "Someone should be put in jail for this blunder to the residents of this city".
That someone is John Arceri.. The city's so called expert!

MrBreeze writes:

As most of these stories go the so called smart people call in consultants then they spend the taxpayers dollars while the people in charge are paying themselves top dollar also. Then that group moves on to new territory and the taxpayers are left holding the bag.

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