Utility committee leader wants consultant’s scope curtailed, trim $133,000

VERO BEACH – The leader of a three-government joint committee tasked with hiring a consultant to determine the future of their water and sewer utilities wants that contractor to cut out the fluff, he said earlier this month.

Former Indian River Shores Mayor Tom Cadden told the town’s council members when the contract came before them that Orlando-based GAI Consultants’ proposed $170,000 contract has “more fluff” than he’s ever seen. He wants to cut the price and scope of work down to $37,000.

The Indian River Shores Council is to hold a special meeting Monday to take a vote on the contract, in advance of the Board of County Commissioners’ and Vero Beach City Council’s Tuesday meetings.

All three government bodies need to approve the contract or face the prospect of having to let GAI go and move on to the next consultant in line, Post, Buckley, Shuh and Jernigan.

Of the $170,000 proposed contract, GAI wants $8,800 to interview Vero Beach, county and Indian River Shores officials to discuss the utility issue.

The consultant is tasked with studying the water and sewer agreements between the three jurisdictions and determine whether merging the county’s water and sewer systems with the City of Vero Beach’s system should or could be done.

The first phase will involve collecting data about system assets and operations from all the entities and interviewing key officials on all sides to determine how much political will exists among the county, Vero Beach and Indian River Shores to embark upon a major consolidation effort, which may involve the formation of a utility authority.

The second phase, which would be dependent upon the level of support among the entities to cooperate, would look at various economies of scale that could be created by merging or linking the systems.

A full appraisal of the systems would take an estimated nine to 10 months, but Cadden said the entities don’t need legal appraisals in order to decide whether or not to renew or terminate their franchise agreements.

The three-government committee had been charged by their respective leaders to hire a consultant and get answers regarding the water and sewer systems by early summer. GAI’s proposed work could take the project into September.

Indian River Shores is currently a water and sewer customer of Vero Beach, but could switch to the county’s system at the end of its contract with the city.

Currently, the Indian River Shores and the Board of County Commissioners have 30-year franchise agreements with the City of Vero Beach for water, wastewater and irrigation water service, expiring in 2016 and 2017, respectively.

Each contract has a five-year notification clause, meaning the Town of Indian River Shores must notify the City as to its intentions about renewing the franchise by October 2011. The County must convey its intentions by March 2012. About 38 percent of Vero’s water and sewer customers live outside the city limits and have been placing increasing pressure on their elected officials to offer some relief from high utility rates.

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