With an amended interlocal agreement with the Board of County Commissioners in front of them for approval Port St. Joe city commissioners took issue with county action they believed tipped the scales of fairness.

With an amended interlocal agreement with the Board of County Commissioners in front of them for approval Port St. Joe city commissioners took issue with county action they believed tipped the scales of fairness.

Port St. Joe commissioners lobbied for more than a year and waited sometime impatiently for two months while attorneys worked to broker an amended interlocal agreement over annexation of WindMark Beach.

But with a county proposal awaiting approval, commissioners tabled consideration of the agreement over the proposed increase in tipping fees the county will charge at the landfill.

Given that city residents pay county taxes, Mayor Mel Magidson said, it was fundamentally unfair for the county to assess fees that will add tens of thousands of dollars in costs to the city for services county residents receive for free.

“I am reluctant to bring it up, but how are we going to address tipping fees?” Magidson said during a Tuesday meeting that followed a budget workshop during which the tipping fee increase was discussed.

“We need to address that. There is something about that that doesn’t seem right to me.”

As city attorney Tom Gibson said, a resident living in the first phase of WindMark, in the county, would not pay for yard debris removal.

Across the street, in the second phase annexed into the city, that same service will cost the city $60 a ton, up from $40.

“My approach is there might be some legal issues associated with that,” Gibson said.

Commissioner Phil McCroan said the interlocal agreement speaks to a similar issue. The agreement prohibits the city from charging county residents any more for water and sewer than it charges city residents.

“Our residents are paying twice (for the landfill),” McCroan said. “That is our leverage.”

Gibson said the water and sewer rate equalizer was long in the interlocal agreement and that as part of the agreement the city had assumed water systems that were revenue generators for the county.

The amended interlocal agreement, including eliminating the fire tax the city has paid into the county general fund, also adds new obligations for the city.

The city would take over firefighting duties in Oak Grove, establish emergency water rescue capabilities along the city coastal areas and, most significantly, would require the city to deed over the land on which the Tourist Development Council Welcome Center sits.

“They want a valuable piece of property we own,” Magidson said. “There has to be a quid pro quo.”

The amended interlocal agreement also includes a provision that the city and county will continue to cooperate in the construction of a recreational complex, though the agreement eliminates any monetary figures to that cooperation.

More to come.

City locks in $15 million debt

The big number for the little city was set in green as commissioners approved a new $15.3 million note on the city’s long-term debt.

The note will continue to be held by Regions Bank which provided the city a path to avoid a costly 2015 balloon payment on the debt.

Regions agreed to a 25-year note with a 15-year balloon payment. The rate is 3.39 percent and increases the city’s annual payment on the debt – accrued largely through capital and infrastructure projects the past six or seven years – from $858,000 to $910,380.

“We think that is the safest route,” said city manager Jim Anderson.

A key was keeping the annual payment under $1 million and also providing the city enough flexibility to lock-in a long-term plan on water and sewer rates that have been spiking for three years, will increase again in October and are linked to the debt.

“We feel they are meeting us at a good position,” said Michael McKenzie of the city’s finance committee. “It’s a good rate locked in for 15 years. The security of those extra years was important.”

Though commissioners had hoped that once the long-term debt was settled they could ease off rates, the new loan agreement reduces potential attorney’s fees and provides a path to address rates in two to three years.

“We could level out the rates in the next couple of years,” McCroan said.

Water line replacement

The city will shave some future debt after commissioners approved having a work crew from Public Works to perform the second phase of water distribution line replacement.

During the past year Public Works director John Grantland has hired several former employees from contractors GAC and IC Contractors and the crew performed line replacement along Marvin Avenue as a pilot project.

The results, commissioners agreed, consistently met or exceeded the performance of IC during the initial phase of line replacement and by rejecting outside bids and taking the work in-house the city will save an estimated half million dollars.

“They’ve proven it can be done,” Magidson said.

The city will go out for bid on the materials and will provide a small bump in pay for the construction crew during the work.

The work could begin in the next two months.

“This means less debt down the road,” Anderson said.

Grantland and his team will also resume uni-directional flushing of the distribution system in the next week or so.