Monday, January 24, 2022

City Council Notes



By Noelle H. Lowery

The Marco Island City Council got down to business during its May 19 regular meeting hashing out a number of issues, including the purchase of an emergency standy-by generator for its South Water Treatment Plant for $200,000, the award of the $7.625 million contract for the Smokehouse Bay Bridge project to Quality Enterprises USA and a detailed discussion on how the city creates its ordinances and resolutions.

An Electric Deal

Council tackled the generator purchase first, agreeing to include the purchase of the emergency standy-by generator from Lee County Electric Cooperative (LCEC) in its FY2015 budget. According to Marco Island Utilities General Manager Jeff Poteet, the generator has been housed at the plant by LCEC for some time. Now, the electric coop is getting out of the business of supplying the generators, and is offering it to the city for $200,000.

“We negotiated with LCEC to come up with a fair price,” Poteet told city councilors at the meeting. “We conducted a staff inspection of the generator, and in our mind, it is a very fair price…We have reviewed the maintenance records, and LCEC has maintained it very well,” he added, noting that utility staffers believe the generator has a life expectancy of another 15-20 years.

To be sure, it is a good deal for the city. First, brand new generators of this ilk come with a hefty price tag: $650,000 plus installation and necessary switch gear additions. With LCEC dropping the emergency generator business, the city would be forced to buy one on the retail market. “LCEC would remove it if we did not buy it…We need to provide emergency back-up power for treatment and distribution pressure,” Poteet said.

Second, this deal provides some fiscal accountability for the Utility, which has been scrutinized recently for how it budgets and spends money. Because the purchase is for FY2015, a direct funding source can be identified for the generator during the budget process. Additionally, the city will receive an annual electric credit of $50,000 from LCEC, thus decreasing the Utility’s FY2015 budget request by $50,000.

Before approving the intent to purchase, though, city councilors added one minor contingency to the deal. The generator housing is in need of $3,500 in repairs, and while Poteet speculated that the city would have to pick up the tab when it purchased the generator, the City Council’s approved measure states the city will consider the purchase of the generator in FY2015 as long as LCEC picks up the repair bill.

Bridging the Gap

Next — after more than five years of designing, negotiating and debating — city councilors unanimously approved a $7.625 million contract with Quality Enterprises USA to replace the Smokehouse Bay Bridge. The approved cost is a “not to exceed price,” and city staff is working with the contractor to further value engineer the design in hopes of lowering the price.

City Council also agreed to finance the bridge project via a 15-year bank loan in an amount not exceed $6.05 million. At 3.5 percent, preliminary interest figures on the loan total a little more than $1.88 million for a total debt service of roughly $7.931 million.

Councilor Chuck Kiester moved to approve the package: “We’ve been batting this around for I’m not sure how long…We need to move forward with this project for safety reasons.”

During the discussion of the interest costs, a number of residents questioned why it is necessary for the city to pay the $1.88 million in interest, and the project became an example of why City Manager Roger Hernstadt’s “debt free” budget proposal should be a viable option for the city.

Hernstadt answered the questions very matter-of-factly: “That is the cost of financing. You can see the interest rates for government projects are tracking up so that is going to be our continued experience if we continue to borrow money.”

Reading, Writing and

City councilors also agreed — by a slim margin of 4-3 — to discuss at a future meeting having all proposed city ordinances drafted by City Attorney Burt Saunders in consultation with city staff. This debate spanned the entire three-hour meeting, as the official resolution was tabled and councilors continued to discuss the idea.

To recap, this subject initially came up during on May 5 when various councilors expressed displeasure that the ordinance amending the Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort PUD was crafted by the petitioner and not the city staff or City Attorney Saunders. The ordinance’s first reading and public hearing were tabled until the June 2 meeting, despite Saunders’ assurances that petitioners often provide language for ordinances. Councilor Amadeo Petricca suggested a resolution mandating that all future proposed ordinances be drafted by Saunders with the help of city staff, and Petricca pushed this again during the May 19 meeting.

“That Marriott ordinance was written by the Marriott and not vetted by staff or the city attorney before it got to City Council; that was my biggest bitch,” insisted Petricca. “It was not vetted by anyone directly from petitioner to council. That is not how it is supposed to work.”

Some Councilors raised concerns that Petricca’s idea would increase city costs and create redundancies in the system. For example, petitioners pay the city roughly $3,000 for an application to amend a PUD, and according to Saunders, he will charge the city an additional $2,000-$2,500 for his time spent on drafting the Marriott ordinance.

Councilor Kiester outlined how if the proper planning process is followed the city staff, city attorney and petitioner are engaged in the process from the beginning, and as such Petricca’s resolution is not necessary. “As the city manager has pointed out, many ordinances are drafted in house and sent through the city attorney as a matter of form, but the substance of the ordinance is developed in house. There is no reason to change that. It will end up costing us an arm and a leg,” Kiester explained.

In the end, Council Chairman Ken Honecker asked Saunders if similar ordinances are commonplace, and Saunders said he had “not seen this type of ordinance or resolution before.”

“If it is obviously such a great idea, isn’t this all over the state?” Honecker continued. “My position is the council writes the ordinance. At the end of the day, we are responsible for the ordinance. We rely on our staff and the city attorney to make sure our wishes are correct with what we want.”

“We will bring it up for discussion,” he added. “I would like to have staff research if other communities have a similar ordinance and find out what the costs are. I want to have all of the information in front of us.”

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