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Utilities expansion back on track

By Staff | Feb 16, 2012

At nearly four hours, Wednesday’s special meeting of the city council had all the flow of a Yankees-Red Sox game.

But in the end, the council agreed by a 5-2 vote to put the much-delayed Utilities Expansion Plan back into motion.

That didn’t stop all the council members from expressing their reservations about the project, and lots of questions were raised, from how to pay for it to if they can do water only in the un-serviced neighborhoods north of Pine Island Road.

Mayor John Sullivan and District 4 Councilmember Chris Chulakes-Leetz had the most questions for Utilities Manager Jeff Pearson and Business Manager Michael Ilczyszyn and the most concerns during the marathon session.

Chulakes-Leetz and Sullivan registered the two no votes. District 1 Councilmember Marty McClain was in Tallahassee and was excused from the meeting.

Manhattan Construction’s Jack Dylan and Bill Dean gave the council a refresher course on the methodology of contracting utilities before Pearson and Ilczyszyn gave their presentations.

Pearson recommended the “Design-Bid-Build” process, which would be used in the motion to pass.

“It’s tried and true and it gives the best chance to save money,” Pearson said. “We’ll have risk, but we can manage it and hope to eliminate the unknown.”

“We need to involve the city. We need to keep the costs reasonable,” District 6 councilman Kevin McGrail said. “I have reservations over this.”

Ilczyszyn presented more numbers to move the recommendation along with projected population numbers for Cape, the third-largest city in Florida by size.

Buildout in 2080 is projected at 400,000, Ilczyszyn said.

“We will be in the top five someday in population,” Ilczyszyn said.

Chulakes-Leetz questioned the figures, wondering aloud why the 10 cities ahead of Cape in population currently won’t grow themselves.

Pearson then presented the plan calling for the completion of Southwest 6&7 and North 1-8, which is expected to be finished in 2031.

The questions came in waves. District 2 Councilmember John Cariocia asked if HUD would help foot the bill and if an auditor would be added to the cost.

Chulakes-Leetz asked if they could defer hooking into sewer for those who have septic (no), if they had federal grants (no), then had his own plan to keep rates down.

“My duty is to stop ridiculous rate increases. Let’s bring back the infill assessment,” Chulakes-Leetz said. “About 86 percent of the infill owed is from outside Cape Coral. That’s outside money coming in. That’s huge.”

McGrail called the idea “The Ghost of Christmas Past Tax.”

“That game’s been played, now we want to change our mind to those from 30 years ago. That’s terrible precedent,” McGrail said.

Other questions posed concerned if the utilities work in the north would negatively impact proposed road improvements (no), and if north could get water service first.

“Rates can be reduced if we get water to the north central Cape as soon as possible,” McGrail said. “There’ll be immediate savings and a service provided.”

Sullivan balked at the idea, saying they city would only have to tear things up again to put in the sewer, which would mean more expense.

Most residents in the public comment portion residents had two chances to comment, before and after the presentations supported the plan, but with caution.

Some were outraged, going as far as to ask if the council was really looking out for the well-being of its constituents.

“I’m struggling to make it as it is. Everybody my age is trying to make it,” said Brian Fisher. “Do you see any young people here anymore?”

“We have kids going to school without lunch,” another woman said. “You want to put this on them. I don’t see you in the community. Show us you care.”

The council listened. Then, after wrangling over the language of the motion, passed it.

“If you say now’s not the time. It never will,” District 7 Councilmember Derrick Donnell said. “We need the sewer and need to plan for this.”

“If we don’t get started, we’ll be talking about it in 20 years, 30 years” District 5 Councilmember Rana Erbrick said.