Thursday, Dec 18, 2014
Local News

Avon Park to consider acquiring major utility


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AVON PARK - As annexation steadily continues to expand Avon Park, another major acquisition of a private wastewater service area was discussed that could result in significant annual revenue for the city.

At the city of Avon Park City Council regular meeting Monday, the council voted 3-2 to continue assessing the feasibility of taking over the Sebring Ridge Utilities, 3625 Valerie Blvd., and its wastewater service area, The utility has three lift stations and services about 530 homes and residential units.

At the meeting, the council approved moving forward with due diligence in possibly acquiring Sebring Ridge; Avon Park already provides water service to this area.

City Manager Julian Deleon reported the city would be acquiring the wastewater utility for $500,000 and includes the 530 accounts. City staff estimates revenues from providing wastewater services to be $134,000 per year.

The city estimated revenue for providing wastewater service based on a 70 percent occupancy rate at $35 per month to be $81,732 per year, including a $51,944 wastewater bill, based on water use, for The Bluffs golf course community.

"The system currently has some deferred maintenance concerns that would require a substantial investment from the city to rehabilitate the existing infrastructure." he said. "This work needs to get done regardless of whether the city owns the system or not.

For those improvements, which would only benefit those specific customers, a one-time assessment would be proposed to fund any needed reconstruction work. Between capacity fees and the needed infrastructure improvements, Deleon said staff estimates $1 million in improvements would be necessary to rehabilitate the system - namely the lift stations - and connect to the city's system.

Deleon said a special assessment tax could be passed to help bring the system up to standards and the city has contacted a law firm to help establish the assessment if the utility was acquired.

"Whether we take over or not, the current owner has maintenance that needs to be addressed," Deleon told council.

With 530 units currently connected to the Sebring Ridge Utilities' sanitary system, the estimated fiscal impact to property owners for the assessment would be $1,887 per connection, which Deleon said could be financed for each customer over 15 years, On each customer's utility bill, $14.92 per month could be invoiced or each customer could pay the entire amount in one lump sum.

Although he acknowledged the acquisition might be better for the city and the company in the long run, Councilman Garrett Anderson voted against the continued assessment, saying he thought the $1,800 connection fee shouldn't be mandated.

"I don't want to have to impose a fee like that to hook up," he said.

The discussion on Sebring Ridge follows having the utility systems of Valencia Acres, Crystal Lake, Damon, Banyan Woods and Brentwood centralized and interconnected to the city's water network. Most of these privately-owned systems ceased their business operations once acquired by Avon Park.

The city council Monday also voted to enter into a grant of easement with the Florida Department of Transportation (DOT) at Donaldson Park. The property, a concrete spillway draining runoff from Main Street into Lake Verona has no easement. Due to receding lake levels, the structure needs to be reconstructed by the DOT to avoid erosion at the base.

Deleon said the DOT wants to remedy the problem by getting a drainage easement from the city and rebuilding the structure and have runoff head east and filter back into the lake.

"This is an immediate fix to make sure the drainage system continues to work correctly," he said.

Prior to the city council meeting, the Avon Park Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) approved a $2,000 Event Grant to advertise the Avon Park Noon Rotary's "2014 Bluegrass & Blueberry Festival."

The CRA is made up of council members and is a separate public entity created by the city council to implement and support redevelopment activities in specific areas of the city.

The CRA voted 5-0 to approve the advertising grant based on the success in drawing new businesses downtown over the past two-and-a-half years, such as Eighteen East and the recently-opened Little Italy restaurants.

The Rotary had asked for $3,800 but the CRA Advisory Board suggested $2,000 based on the impact of the festival.

City Attorney Gerald Buhr said the key is that the money somehow eliminates blight and the CRA contended that bringing in businesses that renovate and rejuvenate older parts of the city does that. He said the city needs "evidence blight is eliminated by the events" and the majority of tax increment financing, if used, should go to "bricks and mortar" - actual construction, renovation or remodeling - rather than event advertising.

"If your data isn't showing some kind of benefit to bricks and mortar to eliminate blight...at some point, you have to say enough is enough," he said. "The idea is you're having this festival to bring people downtown and more people will patronize businesses."

The CRA also approved 5-0 an event grant of $735 to advertise Avon Park Veteran's Engraved Brick project, sponsored by the Noon Rotary and Avon Park Breakfast Rotary.

pcatala@highlandstoday.com

(863) 386-5855

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