Last week John Arceri had published a Guest Commentary titled “The making of a good candidate” in which he took both myself and another candidate for Marco City Council to task over our respective responses to a series of questions posed by MICA for which both the questions and answers of all participating candidates appear in the most recent edition of the MICAWAVE (and did not cite another candidate’s response who also referenced the purchase of the utility). Apparently Mr. Arceri intends to follow-through on a statement he made to me in a private e-mail in which he promised to “…do everything I can to see that you are not elected” (sic). As to his statement defining what makes a “good city councilor”, I’m not sure at what point Mr. Arceri became the definer and arbiter of what type of background and experience is important, but I believe my financial and management history clearly speaks for itself and would gladly compare it to any of the other candidates.
For the benefit of those who might not have seen the questions and answers, the question was: “What one change in our Island community have you thought had a negative impact on our Island community?” My complete response was: “It seems clear to me that the manner in which Florida Utilities was purchased, and the lack of planning and foresight that went into it have caused our citizens to be both plagued with unnecessary debt and divisiveness between the condominiums an single-family homes. Purchasing a broken-down system, not adequately funding the purchase, putting a rate freeze on for five yeas and making a distinction between types of property owners have all contributed to a situation that could have been avoided. Given our demographics, we should be among the most fiscally sound cities anywhere, instead of having hundreds of millions of dollars in debt and utility rates that are literally causing people to move away.”
Mr. Arceri accurately states, “…neither of these candidates were involved, in any way, in the 2003 purchase of the water utility.” This statement is entirely correct; while hindsight is “always 20-20”, had I the opportunity to be involved, I would not have structured the purchase and subsequent steps taken in the manner that Mr. Arceri was so instrumental in doing. Contrary to Mr. Arceri’s statements that I did not review pertinent facts, he seems to take some liberties in his commentary regarding how the City came to purchase the utility, and his role in doing so. He states that Florida Water “decided in late 2001 to sell off all of their Florida assets, it wasn’t the City of Marco Island that initiated any purchase action” If one were to “carefully review the facts”, it would appear as though Mr. Arceri’s sense of history is somewhat askew:
According to the City Council Minutes of 4/5/1999 a motion was presented and passed to “Continue the activity of considering the acquisition of a water & sewer utility and engage the firm of Rosem Sundstrom and Bentley to proceed post haste” Council Minutes for 12/13/1999 reveal that a motion “to solicit proposals from qualified firms to develop the probable cost of acquiring the utility through the eminent domain process” and to “authorize the City Manager to assemble a negotiating team to seek a long-term agreement with FWS” The record for that meeting shows under Public Comment “Mr. John Arceri, 1228 Lamplighter Court, expressed his support for Council’s action. He feels that take-over is an option, but not the only option, and that a referendum should be considered in the future.” Council Minutes for 1/18/2000 include “Discussion—Negotiations with Florida Water Services” during which the then Council Chair expressed his concern that FWS “…is not conducting negotiations with the City, but rather, a public relations campaign.” At the 3/6/2000 Council Meeting the Minutes indicate a Motion was introduced under which the City would begin the process of eminent domain to acquire FWS; a vote was not taken, however a Motion to “Award of contract for preliminary valuation report” was approved as the City continued to consider the eminent domain process.
Mr. Arceri states in his commentary “It was estimated that some $20 million in immediate work would be required.” Actually, the consultant identified approximately $38 million of needed repairs; the city bonded $11,000,000 at the purchase in 2003 apparently on the assumption that rates and revenues would be sufficient to raise the additional $27,000,000. A decision was made to freeze rates for 5 years (excluding a COLA increase). By 2005 the city determined a need to increase revenue to cover these unfunded repairs. Mr. Arceri, now a councilor, supported what was to all intents and purposes a stealth rate increase, which created water conservation block rates and a water base charge of 75% (of the residential homes rate) per unit for master-meter mult-family customers. Neither of these actions were revenue neutral; the 75% charge, after the phase-in in 2006 generated an extra $1,000,000 for the Utility over the previous year, which was the additional revenue generated from the condominiums!
So let’s deal with the facts: (1) the record shows that Mr. Arceri’s statement about Florida Water coming to the City is incorrect and was preceded by 2 years of direct action on the part of the City; (2) Mr. Arceri, as Councilman, created an arrangement under which master-metered condos would pay 75% of the single residential rate, which was not revenue neutral and was actually an increase for the condos.
As Mr. Arceri felt the need to quote Bernard Baruch “no one has a right to be wrong in his facts” it would appear that Mr. Arceri’s selective use of facts and large omissions of facts leads one to question the story he has presented. Perhaps most importantly, it should be clear that the actions both during the purchase and subsequent funding issues support my contention that there was “a lack of planning and foresight” in the purchase of the Utility.