In March, 2013, NGN successfully represented the Florida Governmental Utility Authority (“FGUA”) in the purchase of 68 water and 23 wastewater systems owned by Aqua Utilities Florida, Inc. and its affiliate, Crystal River Utilities, Inc. These systems served over 20,000 customers and were located in twelve counties , including Alachua, Citrus, Hardee, Lake, Lee, Marion, Orange, Pasco, Polk, Putnum, Seminole, and Volusia Counties as well as the City of Longwood and the Towns of Astatula and Pomona Park. This acquisition provided the FGUA with an opportunity to resolve years of customer dissatisfaction with Aqua.
Aqua Utilities Florida, Inc. entered Florida in 2002 and spent several years purchasing predominantly small water and wastewater systems, most of which required repairs or capital improvements. When these repairs and capital improvements were made, Aqua attempted to raise rates to recover their costs, together with returns in excess of 10%, higher income taxes and higher property taxes. While customers were in opposition to the rate increases, the Florida Public Service Commission approved rates for Aqua that placed Aqua among the very highest rates in the entire state.
Pursuant to Florida law, the FGUA provided notice to each presiding elected officer and each manager or administrator in the county, city or town where an Aqua system was located. The Firm successfully guided the FGUA through discussions with representatives of twenty local governments, until each, except one, consented to the FGUA purchase or took no position, which permitted the FGUA to proceed to closing. The Aqua systems were purchased in three distinct financings in coordination with affected local governments to address local preferences and financial feasibility.
It is noteworthy that the FGUA did not purchase all of Aqua’s systems in Florida. While all Florida counties and cities with Aqua systems affirmatively consented or otherwise cooperated in the purchase of the Aqua systems, except one, the FGUA informed representatives of Aqua and four counties that an FGUA purchase of several Aqua systems was not feasible for a variety of reasons specific to those systems. The effected systems were sold to another private utility.
NGN currently is assisting Sarasota County in the purchase of the sole remaining Aqua utility affiliate in Florida, Dolomite Utilities Corporation (“Dolomite”). Dolomite is Aqua’s largest system which is interconnected with the County and has been regulated by the County for decades. The purchase is expected to close in October, 2013. Upon closing the Dolomite purchase, Aqua Utilities Florida, Inc. will no longer be operating in Florida.