Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Commission Votes to Make Offer to Utility

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Commission Votes to Make Offer to Utility

Article excerpt

Byline: Drew Dixon

PONTE VEDRA BEACH -- A utility company serving most of Northeast St. Johns County has about a week to respond to the county's $27 million offer to purchase the water and sewer service facility.

The County Commission voted 3-2 Wednesday to make the offer to St. Johns Service Co., which has until Aug. 29 to decide if they'll accept the $27 million bid. Commissioners Karen Stern and Ben Rich voted against the offer.

About 200 people packed the five-hour meeting at Our Lady Star of the Sea Catholic Church's cultural center, where Rich, Stern and dozens of residents criticized the purchase price.

"Twenty-seven million dollars is too high of a price for this facility," said Daniel MacDonald of the Marsh Landing Homeowners Association. "I urge you to reject it."

MacDonald and others were concerned that the purchase would drive up utility rates for about 15,000 customers who currently get water and sewer service from St. Johns Service Co.

The county prepared a preliminary utility bill comparison that shows single-family rates could increase from 4 percent to 100 percent based on usage and meter size. The St. Johns Services company charges about $47.12 a month for a family that uses 8,000 gallons of water and sewer. That could increase by $3.54, the study showed. For a family that uses 25,000 gallons, the current $81.55 bill could increase 60 percent, up to $130.79.

The $27 million purchase price was reached after numerous cost estimates, ranging from about $18 million to about $40 million, had been made in the past two years. Many residents were skeptical of the bid based on the wide range of prices.

"I've heard enough valuations to make my head spin," said Ponte Vedra Beach resident Monroe Taranto as many in the crowd cheered. "I don't believe any of them."

While most of the people at the hearing were adamantly opposed to the proposed purchase, there was a handful of supporters.

Walt Bussells, the retired JEA chief executive officer who now lives in Sawgrass, said he wanted to "commend" the County Commission for pursuing the purchase of private utilities and urged the county to acquire more of the facilities. …

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