By BRIDGET HALL GRUMET
© St. Petersburg Times,
INVERNESS -- Although it is not on the selling block -- at least not yet -- the Citrus County utility system has attracted a second interested buyer.
In an Aug. 14 letter, Florida Water Services requested a meeting with county officials to discuss buying the county-owned utilities, which serve about 5,147 water customers and 2,964 sewer customers from Homosassa to the Central Ridge.
The county's response at a Wednesday sit-down with Florida Water: thanks, but no thanks.
"What I told them was I don't think we are interested at this point in having someone acquire our facilities, but wait until the FGUA report comes back at the end of November, and we'll be glad to share that information with them," Assistant County Administrator Ken Saunders said.
The FGUA report is a study that the County Commission authorized last week, in which the Florida Governmental Utility Authority will recommend which private utilities the county should buy. The report will also outline the possibility of the GUA buying the county-owned utility system.
The GUA is a four-county coalition that buys willing utility systems and runs them until a member county decides to take one over. The group includes Nassau, Polk and Sarasota counties; Citrus County joined last year.
The GUA owns and operates water and wastewater systems in Collier, Hillsborough, Osceola, Polk and Sarasota counties. Florida Water serves more than 250,000 customers throughout the state, including 7,302 water and 3,640 sewer customers in Citrus County.
The economies of scale may allow either group to run the county's utility system, which has about 25 employees and a $3.8-million operating budget, more efficiently.
After reviewing the GUA report in November, the County Commission will decide whether to solicit offers -- from the GUA, Florida Water or anyone else -- to privatize the county utility system, Saunders said.
Commissioner Vicki Phillips said she is open to the idea, if it is apparent that another group could run the utility system better.
But at least one commissioner opposes privatizing county utilities.
"As far as I'm concerned, I am not interested in selling or doing anything with our utility system," Commissioner Gary Bartell said.