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Council members preparing UEP plans

By Staff | Apr 27, 2009

Cape Coral City Council members are not too happy with the prospect of voting for a 95 percent increase in utility rates over five years, but the likely result of not voting for the increase — defaulting on bonds related to the city’s utility expansion project — is equally unthinkable.
Financial Services Director Mark Mason presented the rate hike to council members in March after they voted in February to halt the progress of the UEP. The rate increase is based on stopping the UEP, and any decision to restart the UEP would likely reduce the amount of the increase.
With that in mind, council members are anxious to present their individual plans for fixing the UEP before they are scheduled to vote on the rate hike May 18. Most council members agree the UEP should be continued, but disagree over the costs of the project and the methodology of the assessments given to properties.
Councilmember Tim Day presented his scenario for the UEP’s progress Monday, wanting the city to take over the management of the project from the current project manager, MWH, to save money.
“Some of us, including myself, had some issues with the way we provided the services,” Day said, adding that he didn’t have concrete numbers on the amount of savings related to the city taking over MWH’s position.
Day has had a checkered history with the UEP, alternating votes for and against the project. He said statistics showing assessments related to the project were not the cause of increased foreclosures in the area led to his rethinking the project.
In areas where city utilities are already available, about 20 percent of the single-family residences are in foreclosure, whereas about 35 percent of single-family residences in SW 6/7 and North 1-8, areas where the UEP has yet to enter, are in foreclosure.
“I believed the foreclosure issue was clearly tied to the utility project; there is no correlation to that,” Day said.
But Councilmember Pete Brandt said there are holes in Day’s proposal, and will work on reducing the amount of the rate increase before the May 18 deadline.
“I think you’re still a long ways from having all the options and possibilities out there,” Brandt said.
Councilmember Eric Grill, who withdrew his support of the SW 6/7 project in October partly over fears the estimate $17,000 in assessments and impact fees would push more people into foreclosure, will also present his own plan for the project before the rate hike ordinance is introduced.
He stated his plan will also seek to mitigate the effects of the proposed rate increase on current utility customers while simultaneously trimming costs to future customers.
Others on the dais indicated they are fed up with the further delay involved in the ongoing saga surrounding the UEP.
“I don’t know why it should take another month to do this,” Councilmember Dolores Bertolini said. “I’m really frustrated with this issue we’ve been talking about for the past 4 1/2 years.”
Even if the rate hike is approved by council, residents already on city utilities may see a lesser increase than is contained in the proposed ordinance. The rates will not go into effect until Oct. 1, and council members could vote to go forward with the UEP before then.
“In the meantime, we could vote to do utilities and bring the rates down so people don’t have to see that increase,” Councilmember Gloria Tate said.