ATLANTA -- The Sebring, Fla., Utilities Commission hopes to sell its assets to Florida Power Corp. and pay off its $90.7 million of outstanding bonds by April 1992, but delays in obtaining regulatory approval could push back this timetable, the commission's financial adviser said Friday.
"As far as I know right now, we are on target for April, but if anyone contests this process we could be talking a delay of a number of months beyond that date," said the adviser, James Lenz, who also is president of Capital Markets Consultants Inc. in Orlando.
Mr. Lenz said the timetable could be set back if there are problems obtaining approval from Florida's Public Service Commission for a rate increase the commission's customers will be charged after the sale.
Under the current timetable, commission officials anticipate agreeing with Florida Power by Dec. 5 on the price to be paid for its electric distribution system and the terms of a 15-year loan, Mr. Lenz said. The commission hopes these two sources will bring in a total of $54 million. The commission plans to add to this amount $12.6 million from its reserve accounts, $2.4 million from the sale of other assets, and $21.5 million from sale of its water system to the City of Sebring in order to redeem the bonds.
Before it can obtain its loan, however, the commission must file a petition with the Public Service Commission for approval of a $27-a-month "transitional fee," which Florida Power plans to add to ratepayers' average bill for 15 years to pay off that borrowing.
The petition, which the commission expects to file by Dec. 9, could then be approved as early as Jan. 21 by the Public Service Commission, with a final order from the regulatory agency forthcoming by Feb. 21. On March 1, bondholders would then be given the 30-days notice required for an April 1 redemption of the bonds.
Mr. Lenz acknowledged that there is a "good possibility" the petition before the PSC would be contested by citizens objecting to the rate increase, which could delay approval several months.
In addition, Mr. Lenz said, the City of Sebring must approve the terms of the sale of the commission's assets. Sebring also must sell bonds to come up with the funds to buy the water system. Both of these processes, he said, are subject to delays.
Mr. Lenz said that in negotiations between Florida Power and the commission, both parties have agreed that the price to be paid for the distribution facility will be its book value -- which is currently being determined -- rather than the $10.3 million discussed by Florida Power in its original proposal. The commission hopes to obtain up to $14 million from the sale, Mr. Lenz said.
In addition, the commission is continuing to work out details of the loan sought from Florida Power. In Florida Power's initial proposal, that loan had been set at $42.6 million with an interest rate of 9.5%. But as other parts of the commission's closeout fall into place, both figures are likely to change.
The Sebring Utilities Commission has been wrestling with a burdemsome level of indebtedness since 1981, when it sold $92.8 million of bonds to build a 41.7 megawatt diesel/steam power plant. It found that revenues would fall below debt service requirements because power demand in the region was far short of expectations.
The utility restructured its borrowings in 1986, selling $115.2 million of debt in two series -- $94.3 million of AMBAC Indemnity Corp.-insured bonds and $21 million of uninsured bonds, then valued about $21 million.
The commission's problems with its debts have continued. Last March, it began reducing those costs by selling its power plants to Tampa Electric Co. and using the proceeds to redeem the uninsured bonds.