Holy crap Nancy Shaver and Todd Neville agreed on something this week. But it was all for nothing as the rest of the commissioners voted them down.
Let’s set this up…
Monday night, commissioners discussed a new automatic water metering system that would be fully implemented in and around the city limits, to replace an aging metering system. This new system would cost the city roughly 6 million dollars.
For some context, the standard meter reading system upgrade costs 3.7 million, so we’re looking at over 2 million dollars in additional costs for the new automatic system.
Do you have an extra $2,000,000 to throw around? Apparently the city thinks you do, and it’s no big deal.
Mike Cullum, St. Augustine’s new Public Works Director, told commissioners that the new automatic system would save money for the city by doing things like reducing employee costs, and improving accuracy. However there seems to be a big hole in that theory.
As commissioners and city officials discussed, the new automatic reading system would pay for itself in about 15 years, but as Vice Mayor Todd Neville pointed out, the system only has a standard shelf life of 15 years. The “AMR” (Automatic Meter Reader) is estimated to cost about 6 million dollars according to the Public Works Director's initial presentation, meaning taxpayers are looking to foot the bill for a system that could end up being a revolving door of major debt, that may or may not actually pay for itself in the long run.
When pressed on the issue of cost VS return, Cullum miraculously re-worked numbers, coming back off the top of his head with an estimate of 4 million for full implementation. “The meters are probably going to run, instead of the 5.4 (Actually 5.8) million, they’re probably going to run down in the low 4 million [Range], so that would slightly change this obviously” said Cullum.
“Well can we get those numbers then?” Asked Neville.
“I think that’s a really good ask,” replied Shaver, as they both laughed at how obvious it was that more work needed to be done to ensure cost estimates were more accurate.
“I would think we would need those numbers. If we’re going to be asked to invest 5.8 million, and then it’s [Turned into] only 4.1, that’s a big difference, so let’s come back with those [Accurate] numbers,” Neville continued.
"We need to have a solid business case, we need to look at pilots, we need to look at results in the field and then be sure we’re on the right track,” said Mayor Shaver. She also pointed out that her research suggests that the life expectancy of the new meters may only be 8-10 years.
So numbers for this system how long this system will last are all over the place, and so are cost estimates but, WOW! Neville and Shaver agree on something, and it would appear they're both exactly right. Money is saved, the skies part, the Lord speaks and all is well in St. Augustine.
Commissioner Leanna Freeman decided that blindly trusting these admittedly inaccurate numbers was the way to go, even after the Mayor, Vice Mayor, and Public Works Director agreed to re-examine the numbers.
“I don’t want to be the last to move toward new technology,” stated freeman, as if all her friends had just gotten a new iPhone, and she was ready to go in debt 6 million dollars just to fit in with the crowd.
“We’re not trying to make money.” She continued.
No Commissioner Freeman, apparently we’re trying to waste it?
“One, we’re trying to deliver water is our top priority, and number two is, we want to make money on it,” stated Neville.
The conversation continued with Shaver asking Cullum to tighten up the study, and provide more clarity. Callum agreed to do so.
A frustrated Freeman then stated that although she didn’t think it was packaged properly, and even though there was wildly conflicting information, she would move forward with supporting the project, without further cost analysis.
W in T actual F?!?!?!?!
Shortly after, Commissioner Nancy Sikes-Kline addressed the Public Works Director, adding, “I don’t know why we need to do another study. I mean it’s just busy work again… Everything’s going in the right direction, that I can see with your case, so I would like to go ahead and proceed with…”
She was then cut off by Freeman who looked extremely eager to get this done. She proposed a vote to approve. Freeman, Horvath, and Sikes-Kline voted to approve and that was it. Millions of dollars up in the air based on admittedly flimsy numbers. The city decided to throw an undetermined amount of money at a system that may not even pay itself back, when there was a more cost effective, and proven system on the table, and officials had agreed to provide more accurate numbers for the AMRs.
Why is the city acting like a rapper in a strip club with your money?
Let's hope, as the Public Works Director does, that we get the absolute 100% best case scenario out of this. We all know things usually go exactly how we wish they would, right? Especially when it comes to government spending.
Full Meeting: http://staugustinefl.swagit.com/play/06112018-883