County to conduct search for consultant on merging water systems

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — Later this week, Indian River County officials will send out a request for consultants’ qualifications with regard to the potential consolidation of the county and Vero Beach water and wastewater systems.

The Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved Tuesday the package crafted between the county, Vero Beach, and Indian River Shores representatives on the joint utilities commission. “We’re moving very quickly,” said county Utilities Director Erik Olson at Tuesday’s board meeting.

Newly-named chairman Peter O’Bryan asked that the request package include a timeline so the process of selecting a consultant does not drag out.

Consultants have until Dec. 31 to return their qualification packages to the county, Olson said, adding that the commission is not allowing the process time to collect dust.

In October, the 6-member joint team consisting of two representatives each from the county, Vero Beach and Indian River Shores, debated when the requests should be returned.

Fearing that respondents would submit canned and boiler plate responses instead of specifics, the group agreed to late December or after the first of the year due to the holidays.

The county was selected to take the lead of issuing the consultant qualification request on the consolidation issue due to its experience in sending requests for qualifications.

However, the joint utilities commission will be responsible for sorting through the responses and making a recommendation to the three government boards.

Once all three governments agree on the consultant, they will then enter into negotiations with the consulting firm. That could happen by February, according to the joint commission.

The group expects to have an answer on whether or not it would be possible to merge the county’s and Vero Beach’s water and wastewater systems — and, if so, if it would be financially feasible to do.

The consulting firm is expected to consider three possible scenarios during its investigation. Such scenarios include:

Consolidation of the entire water and sewer utility system under one entity;

Partial consolidation of the City of Vero Beach Utility system outside the city limits and the Indian River County Utility system in each of its franchise areas, independently and collectively;

Continue to operate and maintain the utilities as they exist.

“The purpose of this study is to determine the most efficient scenario listed above that will allow economies of scale to either lower or stabilize long term rates,” reads the commission’s drafted qualifications request. “The study should continue to evaluate other scenarios to determine the next most efficient combination.”

Indian River Shores, currently a customer with Vero Beach, is weighing its options whether to switch to the county when its present contract expires.

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