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Residents voice opposition to Southwest 6/7 project; Meeting intended to inform public on payment options for assessment

By Staff | Oct 17, 2008

Emotions were heightened, tempers rose and Cape Coral city staff looked depleted as residents aired their grievances over the re-emergence of the Southwest 6/7 utility expansion program at an informational meeting Thursday night.

The meeting, designed to present payment options for SW 6/7 residents and property owners, packed council chambers as Financial Services Director Mark Mason laid out the various methods by which the long gestating project could be paid for.

Mason gave three options by which to finance:

— The initial prepayment option, which means paying the assessment in full without interest, by paying one or all three of the utilities: water, sewer and irrigation.

— Amortized option, in which the city borrows the money to pay for the project, and the resident has 20 years to pay through annual installments. The first billing will not appear on tax bill until November 2009.

— Deferred option, which is similar to a credit card with interest payments, with the assessment being paid off over a 10-year period. A lien is placed on the property and minimum monthly payments are set.

Most residents found the options less than desirable, hoping the city would hold off anywhere from six months to a year until the economy has a chance to rebound.

Mason equated the current prices of the project to a trade-off, saying that prices may go up if the economy rebounds.

“There’s a trade-off with this. With this particular program we have the lowest rates we’ve had in 20 years,” Mason told the crowd. “If the economy improves, the prices generally go up.”

Bill and Rose Marie Macari, who own two lots in SW 6/7, said they feel like their money is being held hostage.

“The city needs money now that’s why they’re doing it,” Bill said. “It’s being done to help their shortfall.”

After Mason finished his initial presentation, he opened up a question-and-answer session for the public. He was quickly inundated with a flurry of hands.

Teresa Shattuck thought the format is merely hyperbole.

“They’re letting us air our complaints, just sweeping us under the rug,” Shattuck said. “They’re putting on a show.”

Shattuck and her husband, Don, said they are not financially ready to make the commitment to SW 6/7.

“Absolutely not (we’re not ready),” she said. “But, who is?”

The hallway that connects council chambers to city hall was packed with schematics, artist renderings and ariel photographs of not only SW 6/7, but the entire utility expansion program. The hall was lined with city and MWH staff as residents moved among the crowd.

Outside, residents ambled back to their cars, looking forlorn, confused and disappointed.

Dave Pannone and his father, Leonard, thought it would be wise to wait and see what happens with the economy. For Dave, the impact fee is what really bothers him.

“What gets you is the impact fee,” he said. “Why is it so much less in other parts of the country?”

Back in council chambers, Mason was still fielding questions and complaints nearly two hours after the meeting began. There were only a few bodies left and no hands in the air when he finally called it quits for the night.

Asked if he felt like residents were not grasping the payment options, he simply replied, “Sometimes.”