Cape Coral City Council is expected to discuss the formation of a Utility Advisory Committee on Monday.
Citing citizen concerns about the provision of public utilities and continuing rate increases for existing customers, interim City Manager Carl Schwing has suggested that the elected board re-open its utility discussions, including conversation on rates and debt resulting from the construction of the new water plant in the north Cape and improvements to existing facilities.
To that end Mr. Schwing recommends that council gather information, and he offers four options for doing so: Form another citizen committee; create an advisory committee comprised of four of the eight-member council, vesting them with the task of meeting with staff and utility experts and bringing back information to the entire board; that the city hire a consulting firm; or that council take on the task itself, sitting as a "committee of the whole."
These are interesting options, and we thank Mr. Schwing for placing them on the table.
We, however, see the "committee of the whole" option as the only one viable, and it's the logical course for council to take.
Let us be clear. The utility issue and all of its nuances are well past the public input stage. Nor is the matter a task to be relegated to committees or consultants.
Resolution of Cape Coral's public utility issues - including any remaining fact finding concerning rate structure and the development of a future expansion plan - rests wholly with city council and it is absolutely up to the entire board to tackle this issue, fumbled so badly over the past two years by a board that could not move off deadlock due to split public opinion and the resultant political ramifications.
The city has already taken the citizen committee route.
Council also has had innumerable public information sessions, meetings and hearings, giving this board, literally, at least three years of public input concerning both the escalating rate structure and its co-joined twin, the utility expansion project.
Additional public input, formalized by yet another council-appointed committee or gathered directly via citizen comment, is unlikely to reflect anything more than what council already knows - we are a community divided not by the concept of the project itself, by the issues of who pays, how much, and when.
The Utility Expansion Project, construction of the North Cape R.O. plant and the resulting huge increases in water and sewer rates were, in fact, the top campaign issue this fall.
This leads us to the second point: Sitting council members have had two years to "fact find" while the newly elected members assured us while campaigning that they were well qualified to address the issues associated with the Cape's on-again, off-again utility project.
After getting any remaining questions answered via a short series of special workshops, this council, comprised evenly of blooded vets and new blood, should be ready to resolve the very real issues the city faces.
Council needs to do what its members were elected to do - lead the city. In this case that means address the considerably controversial but undeniably urgent issues of rates, debt repayment and project completion.
Begin now. Do it yourself. Complete it quickly.
We urge council to select the committee of the whole option and immediately schedule a limited number of meetings for early 2010 to address the interlinked components of Cape Coral's utility challenge.
- Breeze editorial