In its Tuesday, March 11, regular meeting, Quincy commissioners voted on the new water and sewer rates mandated by the state. The water and sewer funds are not generating sufficient revenues to cover expenses, pay debt service or maintain the bond-required debt coverage ratio, and haven’t been adjusted for inflation and costs in ten years, said staff.
Both the water and sewer funds are currently under a Consent Order/Decree by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) to correct excessive inflow and infiltration of surface water into the sewer collection system during periods of heavy rainfall. The Consent Decree required a $500,000 debt obligation to correct those matters.
Ten years of stagnant rates and increasing regulatory costs resulted in losses in both funds, said staff. FDEP recently analyzed the funds and required the board to adjust rates to eliminate the shortfall in revenues and to periodically adjust rates to meet Quincy’s loan agreement. The commission unanimously approved the water rate adjustment.
The same issue relative to the sewer rate adjustment then came up for approval. A motion to approve on second reading died in a 2-2 tie. City manager Jack McLean advised the board that there would be practical consequences: “(Not approving) the fee will trigger with both the DEP measure and the bond and legal obligations. You passed the resolution in January to approve the rate increase and the loan. You voted in the obligation. There will be serious financial complications (from not approving).”
Attorney Jerry Miller took it a step further. “The manager was able to negotiate and adopt the rate increase to obtain the loan to abide by the state mandate. I implore you to readdress and change the ‘no’ votes. You have a fiduciary responsibility to the city. This is not a discretionary issue. It’s very clear. There are serious, serious consequences,” said Miller.
Commissioner Larry Edwards said the city has to change its ways of getting rid of solid waste. “DEP said we couldn’t use the spray field anymore. They allowed us to do the cheapest fix, a de-watering system. We borrowed that money and we’ve got to pay it back. Our water and sewer rates cannot be operated at a loss.
We’re obligated to operate at a break-even or profit,” said Edwards.
Two commissioners changed their ‘no’ votes for a unanimous approval.
The city also gave approval to replacing a damaged headwall on East Crawford Street between Earnest and Corry Streets. “This has washed out and is a threat to the road behind it,” said McLean.
Police chief Walt McNeil reported that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) has issued numbers about the city’s crime rates. “It’s important to share (these numbers) and give our thanks to our citizens and police for their help. There has been a significant decrease in crimes in the city from January through December, 2013. Violent crimes are down 29.2%. This is an effort by the officers, employees and citizens and can be applauded. I congratulate the men and women of Quincy police,” said McNeil.
McNeil gave cautionary advice about one sector of crime that has exploded in size. “Larcenies of motor vehicles is up by 187%. Most of those were of vehicles left unattended and/or unlocked. 80% or more were unlocked. As summer holidays near, those types of crime increase,” said the chief. “Locking and securing your vehicles is tantamount.”