Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

JEA Open to Neptune Utilities Buy

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

JEA Open to Neptune Utilities Buy

Article excerpt

NEPTUNE BEACH -- The JEA is open to the idea of buying Neptune Beach's water and sewer departments even though the city's sewer plant is the subject of a federal grand jury probe.

The prospect of JEA taking over the city's utilities operations has been discussed only briefly, but JEA would pursue the idea if city officials are interested, said John Jolly, the authority's strategic assessment officer.

City Councilman Bob Shimp introduced the idea at a recent council meeting, about a month after the U.S. Attorney's Office subpoenaed records on the sewer department's wastewater treatment plant and City Hall. The grand jury is reviewing the period from 1996 to Feb. 14 of this year.

Jolly said the subpoena wouldn't affect JEA's decision on the purchase.

"The subpoena has nothing to do with it," Jolly said. The investigation focuses on the water and sewer departments' past, which does not concern JEA, he said.

JEA wouldn't proceed with the purchase unless Neptune Beach and the authority would benefit, and a four- to five-month review would be needed before full benefits could be determined, Jolly said.

"It's got to be a win-win for our current customers and the customers in Neptune Beach," Jolly said.

He said the purchase would mean a larger customer base for JEA so costs could be spread among more individuals and lower water and sewer rates for Neptune Beach.

But John Herbst, the city's finance director, said it's impossible to predict whether rates would be lower under JEA.

A two-person Neptune Beach household that uses about 5,000 gallons of water a month pays about $36 for water and sewer, Herbst said, noting those rates are similar to others in the area.

Also, Neptune Beach's rates would remain competitive once the last of five years' worth of rate increases to help pay for water and sewer improvements takes effect in 2002, Herbst said. …

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