- February 2, 2023
When Community Development District 6 experienced a water pipe burst on Thornhill Court in 2014, residents of the Country Club began to question whether it would be better to transfer their wastewater and potable water systems to Manatee County to maintain.
After all, Manatee County had far more resources to deal with such problems.
CDD6 maintained its sewer and water systems within its borders and Manatee County was responsible for the sewer lines from there to the Manatee County wastewater plant on Lena Road, and the water lines from the CDD6 border to the reservoir.
That busted water pipe eventually started in 2017 a long, arduous process for CDD6 of negotiating with the county and relinquishing control of its wastewater and potable water systems. As of September when commissioners signed off on the project, Manatee County now has taken over the wastewater system, although CDD6 still maintains its potable water system. CDD6 is working with the county to take over maintenance of its potable water system as well.
James Rogoze, the chair of the board for CDD6, said it cost CDD6 approximately $446,000 to upgrade its wastewater system to the point that Manatee County would take it over.
He said the cost will be worthwhile in the long run because it will improve service and could lower residents' CDD fees.
“We try to think ahead,” Rogoze said. “We try to say we're going to spend a little bit of money on this now, but in the long run, it's going to be a whole lot less money.”
According to Steve Zielinski, the chief financial officer and chief executive officer at the Inter-District Authority, it is difficult to estimate to what extent fees will decrease as this type of transfer is uncharted territory.
Rogoze said the 2014 water pipe break left many Country Club residents without potable water for days, and it would have been longer if a contractor wasn't able to provide an interim solution through a water source intended to serve another area of the subdivision.
After this incident, which cost the district $43,114 and which Rogoze said took two to three weeks to fully resolve, it became apparent that Manatee County workers would have fixed the problem much faster.
Jeffery Goodwin, the interim utilities director for Manatee County, said the county became aware of the struggles community development districts were experiencing with their water and sewer systems in 2012.
Although Zielinski said regular maintenance has been contracted for the CDD6 sewer and water systems, Goodwin said in some districts, officials were reacting to issues rather than preventing them, failing to set aside funds for maintenance.
He said often, CDD officials did not realize their responsibility for maintenance until an incident occurred and then they discovered the county was unable to respond.
In 2014, though, costs for such transfer of maintenance were considered too prohibitive by some CDD board members, Goodwin said, as the county had drawn a hard line which established it would not take over a system unless it was entirely aligned with current standards.
That meant CDDs would need to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in some cases to bring their systems up to county standards.
Eventually, the county decided to relax its requirements. Goodwin said although districts are no longer required to meet current standards for pipe material, they must still perform maintenance that restores the pipes to their original lifespan when they were installed. This, he said, prevents taxpayers from bearing maintenance costs for an aging system.
He said the county also decided to offer a credit, as CDD residents had been paying the same amounts in taxes for their water and sewer systems, despite not receiving maintenance from the county.
Goodwin said besides CDD6, the county currently has two transfers of sewer system maintenance in the works for Country Club East and Central Park in Lakewood Ranch, and also is negotiating with Palm Aire.
Rogoze said during the initial stages of the project in 2017, some debate existed over whether the cost of turning the wastewater system over was worth the benefit, but the board pushed forward.
Rogoze said there was never any advantage for CDD6 to maintain its own wastewater and potable water systems.
“We’re a small entity,” he said. “We just don't have that expertise, and we would never be able to afford that kind of expertise. The water in the sewer systems is so important in modern life that you want to make sure it’s in the hands of the best people.”
He said it is obvious the wastewater and potable water systems, which are 20 years old, would need more attention as they aged. He said, despite the cost, it will prove to be the right choice.
Manatee County has staff on rotating shifts 24 hours a day who deal with sewer and water line problems. CDD6 couldn't begin to match that coverage.
After first asking the county for a maintenance transfer in 2017, talks between the two entities then started as CDD6 staff worked on a plan that would fill the county's requirements for upgrades.
Rogoze said the expertise of Anne Ross, who is now executive director of the Lakewood Ranch Stewardship District but then was executive director of the Inter-District Authority, was key to the process. He said Ross had experience in the engineering field.
The lift station was the first component to undergo an upgrade, in 2018. Goodwin said CDD6's lift station and overall sewer system are now in good shape, even after Hurricane Ian.
Located at district border, the lift station transfers the underground wastewater to a higher elevation. The district's overall sewer system relies on the gradual downward sloping of the pipes to transport wastewater.
According to Goodwin, the transfer of the entire sewer system to county control provides an additional benefit, as the lift station will be incorporated into the county’s preventative maintenance program, which will automatically notify staff of breaks in the line based on a drop in pressure at the lift station.
Following the lift station, the pipes were the second and final stage of the sewer system transfer. One of the main steps towards approval for this phase was a thorough cleaning and examination of the pipes. The district hired a subcontractor who used a remote-controlled apparatus to capture video inside the pipes, while also cleaning in areas where staff saw it was needed.
Rogoze said it appeared the pipes were in “pretty decent shape,” with no repairs that were needed. He said there were some areas of the pipes demonstrating what are known as “bellies" or sagging, due to the collapse of the ground below them, but said none were serious enough to warrant repairs.
Goodwin said the district was also required to provide a defect bond for a sewer line running underneath its golf course.
Rogoze summed up the wastewater system transfer by saying, it was “another one step forward to having everything managed by those who are best qualified.”
The third and final step in the process will be the transfer of the potable water systems to the county, which Rogoze said is still in its initial stages. He said he hopes the process will take less than five years, due to the established working relationship with the county.