Letters to the Editor, Feb. 16

Marco Eagle

Saluting the Water Sewer Utilities Options Committee

Hundreds of Marco Island citizens donate their time and talent to the community in dozens of ways, from beach cleanup, to incredible charitable causes, to service on the city’s many boards and committees. One volunteer committee that just completed its work and ceased to exist — imagine that, a government creation allowed to sunset — is the Water Sewer Utilities Options Committee. 

Editorial cartoon

This remarkable committee — selected by City Council as a whole, rather than having each of us on council nominate a political appointee — was an experiment borne of my re-election campaign commitment to take a fresh, professional, non-political look at the utility. In the previous four years, City Council had dismissed three utility consulting firms (after paying them $196,000), and way too much time was spent arguing about the rate structure. 

Our rates are high because it takes a lot of expensive assets to meet seasonal demand, and those assets have to be paid for even in the summer when two-thirds of our dwelling units are empty and it rains every day (so nobody waters their lawn). Sadly, council rate structure discussions devolved into ugly arguments about which class of customer should be harmed so that another class of customer could benefit. 

Your current City Council agreed to try my novel approach, and wow, was it a success. The committee met many times over a limited period and carved the problem into manageable, actionable pieces, each pursued by a committee subset. The committee’s six findings — each backed up by supporting data — were presented to city council and will be pursued as appropriate by the city:

  1. The utility debt structure cannot be improved upon unless interest rates decline meaningfully.
  2. Utility operations are sound and conservative, although one employee might need to be shifted to improve safety.
  3. Two major proposed capital projects may not be justified, and need further study.
  4. Even if the city wished to sell the utility, there is no likely buyer. (We own it!)
  5. There are significant asset-sale opportunities, in the net $10 to $25 million range. The utility has a lot of real estate assets, especially off-Island, that might be of value and which may not be needed for utility operations, or which could be traded.
  6. City Council should reconstitute this committee or similar as a “utility review board” to advise council on an ongoing basis — for example, providing independent, expert review of proposed major capital expenditures. 

Looking at just one item on the utility balance sheet — debt — we see major progress, past and possible future. The previous city council, dysfunctional on rates, came together to reduce utility debt by $20 million through refinancing at lower interest rates. Utility debt per Marco Island household is down 20 percent over the past five years, and could be down another 20% through these new committee recommendations. All of this can help lead to lower utility rates in the future if managed properly.

Collectively, committee members selected by city council as a whole have over 160 years of public utility experience, vs. city council with zero. If these members were to charge typical consulting fees, the total would be $150,000 or more. Committee members:

  • Heyward Boyce, an engineer by training and a graduate of the Naval Academy, Rensselaer Poly, and Georgia Tech, plus a city councilor 2000-2004.
  • Rony Joel, a licensed professional engineer who holds master’s degrees in both civil engineering and business, and was the city’s public works and utility director.
  • David Jones, a consulting engineer with a master’s degree in public administration, who served as town manager in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
  • Lou Rana, a Columbia Univ. MBA, who was the COO of ConEd in New York, at the time the nation’s second largest public utility.
  • Bruce Weinstein, a Ph.D. in chemical engineering, and a former senior engineer for Koch Industries, Collier County, and with the city’s utility.
  • Tom Wides, MBA, former project manager at Inland Steel, and Collier County’s public utilities engineer and operations director for over a decade.

We thank and salute these unpaid and generous members of the Marco Island community. 

Larry Honig, Marco Island

Promises kept

Dear Marco Island Citizens and Taxpayers: “Promises made, Promises kept”. That is the rule I have been working under since I was elected to your City Council in 2014.

I tried to make sure that promises I made were kept; mainly that …

  • The city spend your money on essential “need to haves” and not “nice to haves.”
  • There is follow-up by the city to all of your concerns
  • Our Island’s growth remained under control and that we would not let increases in density destroy our quality of life
  • Our beautiful “green space” Veterans’ Community Park would, forever, remain a park and that there would not be future development of hotels or other ventures on that “sacred” property.
  • I would work closely with the other members of City Council and the city manager to control costs, ensure fiscal responsibility, maintain essential infrastructure and control taxes and debt.
  • We would not allow parking for commercial purposes to infringe on residential properties.

In 2016 you elected a great new City Council and, together, we were instrumental in making all of the above “promises made,” promises “kept.”

I hope I have proven myself to be a good team member, a person of principles and an effective member of our City Council. For that reason, I plan on running and have filed for re-election to City Council this coming November and hope I am deserving of your continued support.

Victor Rios, Marco Island