Did you hear the one about the guy who wants to by the Sanford sewer plant?

No seriously, Ashley Ansara, a veterinarian who has built and sold several professional buildings in Seminole County, approached the Sanford City Commission last week about buying the sewer plant for $3 million.

cd-300x250The facility occupies 8.37 acres on the southern bank of Lake Monroe, near Downtown Sanford. Locals have long lamented its location on such a prime piece of real estate.

Former Sanford Mayor Brady Lessard used to claim – actually, he still claims – he’d rather have his name put on the sewer plant than on any building or park.

“It ain’t sexy, but you can’t be a great city if you have a crappy sewer system,” Lessard said.

Lessard’s musings aside, why would someone want to buy a sewer plant?

Ansara’s interest in the property is two-fold. First, he wants to relocate the plant within three to five years so he can redevelop the land for residential and commercial uses.

“That location is not really suited for such a facility,” Ansara said. “My plan is to move it from that location because that land should really be developed for retail and residential.”

Second, he wants to build a new facility. Ansara wants Sanford leaders to agree to help him secure tax-free bonds to finance the relocation. He and his private investors would earn their money back by selling waste water services to the city.

“The equipment in that facility is very old, it’s very old technology,” he continued. “We would use the latest technology. It would be much cheaper.”

Ansara’s proposal is interesting, but there are a number of huge issues that have to be addressed.

  1. Would rates increase for Sanford residents? If rates increase dramatically to cover debt service and the return on investment Ansara and his investors want to earn, this would be a bad deal.
  2. Where would you build a new sewer plant, and how much would it cost? Any proposed site will draw massive opposition. Ansara hasn’t proposed a suitable site yet. The county does have a facility way out on west State Road 46 at Yankee Lake, but preliminary studies to put the cost at nearly $100 million.
  3. What would the cost and/or penalties be on the existing debt service? Sanford’s utility department is able to get financing through the State Revolving Fund. Those loans (Sanford has about $30 million worth) are below market rate loans for cities, not for-profit companies. Plus, those loans are paid off by the money you send in for your water and sewer bill. If Ansara is collecting that money, how does the city pay off those loans?
  4. Would the state even approve such a plan? Ansara doesn’t want to buy the entire sewer system (pipes, lift stations, etc.). He also doesn’t want to buy the city’s sewer plant south of the airport. I’m not sure the Department of Environmental Protection would allow a system to be split into two parts.
  5. How would the city pay for new sewer pipes and lift stations? If a sewer pipe breaks or needs replacing, the city utility department pays for those funds with revenues from your sewer bills. Again, if Ansara is collecting that money (at least from from those residents in the northern part of the city), the city would have to pay for repairs out of the general fund.
  6. Is it even feasible to redevelop the north sewer plant? Before it was a sewer plant, that land was the city dump. Clean-up costs at the site are unknown.
  7. Can Ansara pull this off? He told commissioners he has no experience with sewer plants. What veterinarian does?

City Commission directed city manager Norton Bonaparte to create an informal committee comprised of city utility staff, representatives from CPH Engineers (the city’s engineering firm), and city finance department staff to find out answers to these and other questions.

My guess is they will determine this proposal stinks.

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