By Dan Moffett
After first taking a hard look at the numbers, Manalapan commissioners said they like what they see in a proposed sale of the town’s water utility system to Boynton Beach.
“I think this is an exciting development that has a lot of potential,” Mayor David Cheifetz said of the deal.
Boynton Beach utilities director Colin Groff told commissioners that not only is the deal feasible, but also it could be completed as early as Oct. 1.
“We don’t see anything that would hold us up,” Groff said. “It’s just a matter of sitting down and doing the work.”
The acquisition proposal calls for Boynton Beach’s taking over the entire Manalapan system — the water plant, pipes, customers in Hypoluxo and even the utility employees, who would go on the city’s payroll.
The benefits to Manalapan are cheaper water and a much-needed overhaul to an aging infrastructure. Under the proposal, the overwhelming majority of Manalapan customers would see their monthly bills decrease, most of them dropping by about 15 to 20 percent. Boynton Beach would take over the costly replacement of decades-old pipes along A1A, and because of its size, the city utility says it has the resources to ensure reliable service is maintained.
The benefit to Boynton Beach is more paying customers, which means more revenue. The city utility has grown to 102,000 customers and can easily absorb the roughly 900 that Manalapan serves, Groff says.
Both the city and the town will benefit from the economies of scale that the merger could deliver.
There are several issues that will have to be resolved for the deal to go forward, however. Chief among them is what to do about the hit Manalapan’s largest water users are likely to take.
Because the town would be converting from a flat-rate fee scale to a tiered schedule under which customers pay higher rates for higher levels of use, as many as 10 customers could see their bills go up by about 50 percent. These are homeowners along the ocean with large properties to irrigate who typically use 30 to 40 times more water than the average household.
Groff told commissioners during the Feb. 23 meeting that the city might be able to soften the blow for these mega-users by helping them switch to more efficient irrigation methods or reclaimed water.
Another issue is deciding what to do with about $2 million that’s sitting in Manalapan’s utility reserve fund. Some or all of it could go toward driving rates down.
Cheifetz told Commissioner Clark Appleby, a financial consultant, to review the numbers and report to the commissioners during the March 22 town meeting, when they are expected to formally approve or reject the deal.
In other business, Vice Mayor Peter Isaac said problems with Florida Power & Light threaten to delay completion of the Audubon Causeway bridge project for “one to three months.”
Isaac said FPL didn’t show up as promised in mid-February to move power poles from one side of the bridge to the other. Until that happens, workers can’t continue construction and may have to move on to other jobs to keep busy.
“FPL required eight weeks to move two poles 20 feet,” Isaac said. “Not hardly a beacon of productivity and efficiency. I’ve run projects all over the world. I could get this done in Nigeria. But Florida Power & Light? Absolutely not. Probably one of the most inefficient companies I’ve ever come across.”
Isaac said the project still could be completed by the end of July as hoped, if FPL cooperates.