$25,000 approved for utility acquisition consultant

At the Monday night meeting of the City Commission, Historic City News Editor Michael Gold shook his head in disbelief as newly re-elected commissioner Nancy Sikes-Kline moved to approve an expenditure of $25,000 for an “acquisition consultant” to assess the value of a proposed sale of West Augustine utility service to the county.

“First it’s $20,000 for a consultant to give us a business model to sustain the $2 million expansion of the Visitor Center, now $25,000 for an acquisition consultant to tell us how much our Westside utility service is worth,” Gold said. “We’ve seen recently that local government will hire the consultant they know will give them the answer they want — or pay $20,000 or more to a professional consultant, then turn right around and do something completely different from what they recommend.”

“The county is strapped,” County Commissioner Ken Bryan said; as he addressed the city commission from the podium. “But our utility fund has the resources for an acquisition, and it’s also possible to swap other assets with the city.”

“Bryan is a genius,” Gold said with a wink and a nod. “Of course the utility fund has the resources for an acquisition — utilities are the single largest non-ad valorem enterprise conducted by local government.” Gold said that the County tried to strong-arm their way into Hastings and take over their water and sewer treatment plant, but met with a frosty reception and staunch resistance. “The farmers in Hastings were smart enough to realize that they needed to maintain control of critical water and sewer capacity — and, had they lost that control, they would have also lost control of how much residents would have to pay for utilities from that point forward.”

Bryan said, “Most importantly, we’d be able to start within two years, compared to the eight to ten years the city would be delayed.”

Gold had a short rebuttal for that. “It wouldn’t take any longer for us to start our own improvements than for the county to start them if we would quit throwing money at all of the mayor’s pet projects.”

“To me, this is a legacy project for St. Augustine, to get the people of West Augustine the water and sewer lines they deserve,” Commissioner Nancy Sikes-Kline said.

“I agree that the people of West Augustine deserve adequate water and sewer lines,” Gold said. “That’s what local government is supposed to be doing. Why doesn’t the commissioner do that, instead of planning for the sale of one of our best income producing assets?”

Most of West Augustine is outside the city limits, but part of our utility system extends through the area.

Assistant City Manager Tim Burchfield will head up a team to evaluate with the county the potential acquisition.

Photo credits: © 2010 Historic City News staff photographer

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