Emerald Coast Utility Authority (ECUA) Board members voted 4-0 to approve a 5% rate increase for sanitation on June 29, 2017. The Board also voted 3-1 (Mr. Dale Perkins voting against) to hold a public hearing July 27th, 2017 for a resolution to establish a “capital improvement fee” for upgrades to the water and sewer system infrastructure.
Board member Dr. Larry Walker explained in a Facebook post,
“…we have been talking about additional money needed in order to pay for repair and replacement (“R&R”) of old, worn out sewer lines, sewer lift stations and manholes,and water lines. This is aging infrastructure, not new development.”
A public hearing was held at the regular board meeting at 2 p.m. July 27 at the ECUA Board Room at 9255 Sturdevant St, Pensacola, FL in Ellyson Industrial Park.
I made a brief statement, as did two others (both against the fee).
Here’s a summary of my brief statement:
I would like to address the proposed Capital Improvement fee.
I understand that sanitation fees are separate from water/wastewater side [expenses], and that ECUA saw an increase in the operating expenses on the sanitation side. Thus the Board voted June 29th, 2017 for a 5% rate increase for sanitation.
Today we’re having public comment for a proposed… Capital Improvement Fee. Although the two rates/fees (sanitation vs. water/wastewater) are separate, the overall cost to users is set to increase already, due to the 5% increase in the sanitation rate.
I personally would request the Board not increase the rate further at this time, if at all possible.
I understand that new homes and growth in the county place additional demand on the system, but those new homes will also be contributing revenue to ECUA because they will be using services as well.
According to a recent [Pensacola] News Journal article… [ECUA Board Member] Mr. Perkins stated “There are infrastructure needs, but we’ve always kind of met it in our existing rate structure and put a portion of that aside for our capital improvements.”
Considering that, I have a few questions for consideration:
Is ECUA currently able to meet its ongoing capital improvement needs at the current rate?
Is ECUA able to meet (or continue to meet) the terms of the FDEP [Sanitary Sewer Overflow (SSO)] consent order with the current rate?
Does the resolution specifically state that the new assessment will be used only for Capital Improvement Projects and related expenses?
Again, I would prefer no further rate increase at this time, if possible.
ECUA Attorney, Bradley Odom clarified that “the resolution you’ll be considering next month specifically provides that the capital improvement fee shall be used to fund new and ongoing water and waste water capital improvement projects and expenses related thereto.”
A second public hearing for the proposed capital improvement fee will be at the next board meeting, August 24, 2017. Members of the public may speak on the topic.
Board member Dale Perkins told WUWF:
“I don’t doubt that there are infrastructure needs, I know there are,” Perkins said. “I think sometimes it get overblown and it’s made out to be like its super-critical and the sky’s falling if we don’t do this. The truth is, we can manage them without establishing a new fee that can be increased.”
As mentioned, the fee is aimed at capital improvement, but Perkins says in the past, ECUA has done such projects with funds collected under the regular fees that’s been in a capital improvement program for decades.
“We do our capital programs that way, we’ve funding things like that sometimes,” said Perkins. “Especially when we good interest rates, like a homeowner does for a big project. We’ll borrow money and pay for it as we go. We’ve done lots of sewer upgrades; lots of water line upgrades, and we do, like any city our age, have infrastructure issues.
“But we do pretty good staying on top of them,” Perkins adds.
That five dollar fee being mentioned is sort of misleading, says Perkins. While that’s for an average residential customer, many customers are not average.
“Most residents have a five-eighths [inch] meter – that five dollar fee meter,” said Perkins. “But a lot of them have a one-inch meter and I think its $10 or $20 dollars there. And then [for] some of your commercial users it goes up substantially.”
In 2013, ECUA approved a rate increases for water, sewer and sanitation, citing the need for infrastructure improvement.
In 2014, ECUA approved a 3% rate increase for water and wastewater rates, and a 3.5% rate increase for sanitation, also citing the need to improve infrastructure and the FDEP consent order. According to that annual report:
“The approved water and wastewater budget for 2015 includes a 3% rate increase that will provide funding for managing the Inflow & Infiltration reparations mandated by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s (“FDEP”) sanitary sewer overflows Consent Order and for an additional FDEP mandate requiring additional flushing for valve and fire hydrant installations. Funding is also included for new employees and vehicles, replacement of automated meter readers, security maintenance, information technology upgrades and a $35 million bond issue to support the Capital Improvement Program. The increased disposal costs imposed by Escambia County are the primary reason the Authority Board approved a 3.5% increase in sanitation rates forthe 2015 budget year.”
“The “sewer improvement fee” of several years ago was to provide funds to meet payments on the $137 Million that ECUA borrowed in order to complete the financing of the construction of the Central Water Reclamation Facility (CWRF, completed 2010), the removal of the Main Street Wastewater Treatment Plant (completed 2012), and related new infrastructure. Some R&R of old sewer infrastructure was included, and happily so, but that fee added to customers’ bills was to pay for the new sewage treatment system, not for repair of old infrastructure. The existing “sewer improvement fee” was inspired and necessitated solely by the project of replacing Main Street with the CWRF. Heat from the PNJ about sewer breaks and overflows did happen, but it came later, after the CWRF was built. Revenue from the sewer improvement fee goes completely to pay down the debt incurred in order to accomplish the CWRF/Main Street project. None of that revenue has been or is available to pay for current R&R of aging infrastructure.”
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