Council considers new water rate schedule said to be fair

Steve Stefanides

The Marco Island City Council has before it a proposed water rate structure that would utilize the equivalent dwelling unit (EDU) formula that consultants had indicated they would favor.

The Raftelis Financial Consultant Group would confirm that the rate structure met the financial requirements for adequate income flow for operation, maintenance, capital needs and debt servicing of the Marco Island Utility. Raftelis did not create the structure, but substantiated the formulas and numbers provided by the city as to the financial viability of the program.

Council will meet on Monday, Oct. 19, to hold the second public hearing on the new rate structure. The meeting will begin at 5:30 p.m. in the council chambers on Bald Eagle Drive.

It is seen by the proponents as a much fairer system, especially to those who are gone during the summer months traveling or away up North.

High-rise condominiums also will benefit under the new rate; they will no longer be charged for the meters on their high-rise fire suppression lines unless they are actually used.

Meter size also is being eliminated as part of this new rate structure as council continues its deliberations on the new proposal in an attempt to level the playing field.

Since its inception as a city, Marco Island has always had the issue of water and sewers as part of the discussions by elected leaders.

The debate over the now completed STRP (Septic Tank Replacement Program) was one that saw islanders split over the need to move forward on the completion of the centralized wastewater system and the eventual refurbishment of a wastewater plant that most now agree was in much poorer shape than originally believed.

Islanders have witnessed the discussions on rates for water and sewer as consultants have given reports for years. In the end, however, a decision on what to do and how to do it has eluded those elected officials. Discussions on rates have even dominated the election cycles on the island as different categories of users have argued over the “fairness factor.”

“We’ve continued to kick this can down the road for all too long and it is time to hold a reasoned and factual discussion on the issue,” said council member Ken Honecker.

The present system has been in place since 1998 when the city obtained the assets of Florida Water Services with an occasional rate increase to ensure adequate cash flow to continue operations and meet capital improvement needs.

Councilman Larry Honig has been opposed to the new structure because he believes the process was flawed.

“We never really had the hard discussions of what we wanted to have accomplished as part of this process; I therefore believe the process was flawed and this is a travesty,” said Honig.

Honig has also been critical of the lack of planning for future capital spending.

“I think we’ve seen a rapid acceleration of the plans for capital spending and I’m not sure they are warranted,” said Honig.

One aspect of the new rates would entail the voluntary installation of what is known as a “deduct meter.” This would allow a property owner only to be charged for sewer on the domestic consumption of his/her use of water, which is returned to the wastewater plant for treatment.

Water utilized for irrigating lawns and bushes and other outside uses such as docks and pool water would only be charged based upon the EDU for water, not wastewater charges.

Initially, the installation of those meters were seen as a fairly substantial investment by a homeowner. But since that initial discussion, the costs have been reduced and further economies of scale may also be employed such as waiving permitting fees.