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Cold feet bear a heavy cost

October 20, 2012
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

On Monday, Cape Coral City Council is scheduled to discuss whether to spend up to $7.68 million for engineering services to expand water, sewer and irrigation utilities to the neighborhoods designated as Southwest 6 & 7.

In addition to the not-to-exceed amount of $7,679,332 for plan adoption and review, value engineering, and other services to include construction management, council also would authorize a contingency of 5 percent, or $383,966, according to the proposed agreement with Tetra Tech, Inc.

We urge Council to pull politics from the process as waffling on whether to continue the city's billion dollar utility expansion project after major expenses were advanced has cost Cape Coral ratepayers dearly.

For starters, prospective city utility customers in the unserved neighborhoods around Trafalgar and Chiquita will pay for engineering twice.

Previous plans drafted and paid for to the tune of $6.6 million must be updated now that the off-again-on-again expansion is on again. While that is not a total loss - most of the design work can and will be adapted - plan adoption and review is estimated to tally $400,000 of the new engineering contract. Value engineering -looking to see whether modifying for current conditions and available materials can reduce costs to the city - is budgeted for up to $330,000 more.

Add in various notifications, including multiple mailings and legal ads, and the additional cost of stopping the project first go-around will approach $1 million in extra or duplicated costs.

Meanwhile, ratepayers citywide still are paying for the bio-solids debacle.

The city paid $15 million in 2007 for equipment to convert solid waste into a saleable byproduct but halted the project when the economy tanked. The equipment was never installed and the city, apparently, can't auction it off. An attempt this month to get at least $2.7 million as a minimum bid failed.

There is a price for cold feet.

And it is a hefty one that has been bourn solely by the utility ratepayers who are getting slammed with five years of projected utility bill increases because previous councils approved massive expenditures and then wavered after plans were procured, or equipment was purchased.

Council needs to be very cognizant of these costs because once property owners in SW 6&7 receive their assessment notifications, and once the public hearing process begins anew, the issue is, again, going to become politicized and emotionally charged.

Simply put, it's one thing to be philosophically in favor of a citywide water and sewer program, it's another when you face irate property owners asked to pay more than $20,000 in assessments, fees and connection costs.

That was the number that brought homeowners in SW 6 & 7 out in droves last go-around, putting the program on hold back in 2009. Assessments then were computed as high as $10,792 plus another $6,750 in impact fees, plus connection costs and the cost of septic tank removal. Yes, people were distressed.

But the last thing Cape ratepayers - and indeed those same property owners - need is for the city to spend again, only to flush that money away, then add it back into rates or higher assessments later.

That said, we do agree that the final completion of the project south of Pine Island Road is both overdue and necessary.

This council did the right thing to kick start the UEP early this year.

Staff also has done the right thing.

The contract to be considered Monday includes provisions that allows for an extended implementation period, should council shiver come the election next year.

It also provides for better pay-as-you-go billing.

We urge our elected officials to spend the weekend mulling the contract, the expenditures, and what is best for both property owners and ratepayers citywide.

That is for Council to move forward, preferably well stocked with a supply of wooly socks and furry slippers.

- Breeze editorial

Editor's Note: The actual cost of the bio solids project approved by council and then later halted after the equipment was purchased is actually about $20 million. The $15 million figure cited in the editorial did not include approximately $3 million in engineering and $2 million in gas lines.



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