Port St. Joe Commissioner Scott Hoffman has never been a proponent of accepting an opening offer.

That philosophy served the city well as staff massaged a proposal for a comprehensive rate study to almost half its original cost.

Commissioners on Tuesday during a bi-monthly meeting agreed to pay $25,000 for a study of utility rates, wholesale water rates and impact fee levels.

“It is pretty inclusive of what you asked for,” said City Manager Jim Anderson.

The original cost, more than $41,000, had caused commissioners to table a decision with consideration of putting off the rate study for one year.

But there were several prevailing factors.

The city’s long-term debt, once roughly $20 million, is linked to revenue estimates from both water and sewer; reducing those revenue sources would have the potential of putting the debt at risk of being called.

Second, the city is coming to the end of a five-year plan after the water/sewer rates were last reviewed and rates, to the complaint of residents and the Board of County Commissioners, have climbed by at least 3 percent each year.

Further, the BOCC has put additional pressure on the city to examine its impact fees which in the county’s view are holding back economic development.

The county is also examining the potential for an inland water source to service areas of the county, such as White City and Highland View, served by city water.

“We need to know if we are in the ball park or out of the ball park, whether we need to charge less,” said Mayor Rex Buzzett.

City staff has shifted some unused funds to be used for the study.

Lift stations

As most any consumer of city sewer understands, Hurricane Michael took a bite out of the system, some of which continues to run on generators or on last legs.

The city has three lift stations in particular need of repair, one of which is on First Street.

Commissioners approved a task order with engineers Dewberry to assess how much it will cost to replace the lift station, with estimates as high as $1 million.

“We need to know what it is going to cost us,” Buzzett said.

Chief financial officer Mikc Lacour said having “real-world” bids would help in negotiating with insurance and/or FEMA for reimbursement for the repairs.

Lacour said he is still negotiating reimbursement levels on lift stations, the Frank Pate Park gazebo, the Cape San Blas Lighthouse in George Core Park, the police station and bridges around Buck Griffin Lake, among other items.

City Hall land

With approval from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity to use the entire amount of a $312,000 grant for a new government complex to purchase land, commissioners approved a deal with the St. Joe Company.

The city will purchase 5.1 acres east of Dr. David Langston Drive where a softball field once stood.

“It’s a nice piece of property,” Buzzett said.

The city will make a priority of funding the complex from the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Relief funds headed to the state and Hurricane Michael-impacted counties.