Joint utility group hopes to have answer on consolidation by June

By Debbie Carson, Online Editor

VERO BEACH — Representatives from Vero Beach, Indian River Shores and Indian River County have set a timeline for when they hope to determine if consolidating water and wastewater services is feasible.

The first step is to agree on a request for qualifications for bidding consultants. The 6-member committee expects to have that cleared up at its next meeting, Nov. 9.

Once the group narrows down the list of consultants, they’ll bring recommendations to their respective government leaders for a vote — which could happen in February.

By June, the committee expects to find out if consolidating the services is an economically viable option.

Former Indian River Shores Mayor Tom Cadden expressed interest in moving up the time line, asking consultants to respond to the committee’s request for qualifications in December, but other members dissuaded him.

Both utilities directors Rob Bolton, from Vero Beach, and Erik Olson, of Indian River County, told Cadden that if they were to restrict the time for the consulting firms too much, the committee could expect to get canned and boiler plate responses rather than detailed information they would need to make a selection.

For about an hour, the committee members debated what information should be included in the RFQ and whether it should be split into two parts.

Cadden suggested that the committee look at two issues — Part A and Part B. For him, the first part should determine whether or not the City of Vero Beach and Indian River County water utility systems could be joined and what capital improvements might be needed.

“If it doesn’t do that,” Cadden said of the systems being compatible, then “we stop right there.”

Jason Brown, the county’s finance director, disagreed, noting that the two systems have been able to serve their respective clients for years.

If the consultant were to determine that consolidation were the way to go, then they would just have to determine which government would oversee both water systems.

“It’s not like we’ve got to run Roman aqueducts” to serve the customers, he said.

Cadden pointed out that there could be redundancies in the combined water systems and that the consultant should be tasked with identifying those and suggest ways for resolving it.

Such redundancies could include the two water treatment plants, multiple pumps and other such infrastructure.

Bolton, of Vero Beach, also raised the issue of water capacity. If the city and county were to merge water systems, they would need to know if there would be enough water to serve everyone.

Olson, from the county, said that the county’s system currently has 1 million gallons of capacity. However, the county provides water to the John’s Island golf course, which needs 1.5 million gallons. Olson said that the county is working to reach that goal.

But how that capacity might impact the potential for merging systems with Vero Beach remains to be seen.

Between now and Nov. 9, Olson has been asked to draft an RFQ based on the input from Vero Beach and Indian River Shores, which is expected to be tweaked during the next meeting. Once the RFQ is acceptable to all three entities, the committee will have to decide which government will send it out.

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