Public responds to proposed rate hike
Cape Coral residents got their first chance to address the city council Monday since a rate study proposing utility rates be raised 92.5 percent over the next five years was released March 25.
Some current utility customers railed against the prospect of having to pay higher rates for water, sewer and irrigation as a result of the stoppage of the utility expansion project.
“I’ve never lived in a county, much less a city, where people can say, ‘I don’t want to pay for it, let somebody else pay it,'” Geraldine Fowler, a five-year resident, said.
“We paid our assessment, and we didn’t come down here with a big bag of money,” she added.
While the halt in the UEP is partly to blame for the proposed increase, other factors have contributed to the possible hike.
In giving his report on the rate study, Financial Services Director Mark Mason said tightening credit markets are making the cost of borrowing money more expensive.
A 2008 rate study, accounting for stopping the UEP, showed an average bill would rise from $93.82 per month in fiscal year 2009 to $122.21 per month in fiscal year 2013.
The study released last month shows that under the same assumption the average bill would rise from $81.97 now to $157.79 in fiscal year 2014.
Other residents spoke against what they saw as the faulty assumptions of previous rate studies.
A 2006 rate study, which was adopted by the city council on the basis of the current rates, estimated an average of 5,250 new tie-ins per year to the utility system. That number has never been reached during the UEP’s progress.
“Assumptions were made that 5,250 hook-ups were supposed to take place — an impossible goal,” outspoken UEP critic John Sullivan said.
“Bad numbers generate bad results,” he added.
Council members usually respond to citizens’ comments, which encompassed more than just the rate hike issue Monday, but opted not to do so this time.
“We didn’t want to get into a tit-for-tat with them,” Councilmember Gloria Tate said.
In a workshop meeting last week, council members resolved to discuss the issue in more detail during a April 27 meeting.
Still, Councilmember Pete Brandt was chagrined he did not get a chance to respond to some of the comments. He said he moved toward his red light, to indicate that he wanted to speak, but Mayor Jim Burch moved onto the next item on the agenda.
“I thought we had established a procedure of answering citizens’ questions after the public input,” Brandt said.