AVON PARK - It's part of what Avon Park's city manager says is a quest to have Florida's best drinking water.
As Avon Park remains debt-free, City Manager Julian Deleon said the city is working to add new customers by acquiring private water systems.
The utility systems of Valencia Acres, Crystal Lake, Sebring Ridge Water, Damon, Banyan Woods and Brentwood have been centralized and interconnected to the city's water network, he said. The city's treatment and distribution systems have been technologically updated, he added.
Most of these privately owned systems ceased their business operations once acquired by Avon Park.
"The city's utility is a jewel. We have done everything possible to expand services," he said.
Working ahead of schedule, Deleon said Avon Park is now working on design and permits to drill two new 12-inch municipal wells 1,100 feet deep, and both new wells are in the city's capital plan for 2015 with a budgeted cost of $500,000.
In addition, Deleon said primarily through grant funds, Avon Park utility workers have completed construction of more than 60,000 feet of drinking water transmission facilities.
The total cost for that project is $2.2 million, funded through the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's State Revolving Fund using 85 percent of grant funds. Deleon said the department's Water Supply Restoration Program provided the remaining 15 percent.
Design, permitting and bidding should take the next six months.
"We are budgeting the project for sometime after October 2014. Construction of the wells and the transmission facilities could take anywhere up to six months after that," Deleon said. "The objective of these programs is to provide the public with safe drinking water,"
As part of the projects, the city also funded the installation of fire hydrants, and as a result, will give some homeowners and businesses property insurance discounts.
Over 2012 and into 2013, the customer base from Damon Utilities, 47 W. Lake Damon Drive, was acquired after the company ceased operations, which added another more than 200 accounts.
The recently constructed projects have added a stream of new customers wanting to connect to city water, which Deleon said shows a need for the service.
The city is also independently installing new water mains to the higher density areas of Avon Park Lakes, which Deleon said shows utilities are recession-proof.
"All of the new installs are keeping our field crews busy. When a new customer signs up for city water, we tap the water main, bore under the road and then the new meter gets set. It is a process," he said.
Jason Lister, Avon Park public safety director, said the recently acquired utilities were served by a single-point water plant.
He said the interconnects will help with streamlining.
"The fact that they were interconnected with the city's multi-plant infrastructure has increased redundancy in the delivery of water service," he said. "This provides the highest level of fire suppression availability in the areas which have existing hydrants."
As an example of the ongoing private water system acquisitions, the city acquired the Crystal Lake Utility in 2011 and centralized operations by interconnecting the Crystal Lake Utility system. Since then, Avon Park has installed over 100,000 feet of water and sewer transmission lines. Deleon said utilities have been important in helping foster public-private partnerships and growth, saying as recent at 2009, utilities were an "albatross," losing money with substandard and neglected facilities.
Tammy Martin, Crystal Lakes property manager -- a golf community of 513 homesites for those 55 and over just southeast of Avon Park -- said the community has been interconnected with Avon Park since 2010.
She said it's been a plus over the past four years and has been a benefit to the city.
"They (Avon Park) decommissioned our sewer plant and upgraded the water plant; our plant is now just a back-up. Everything has been fine over the years," she said.