City council approves increase in utility rate
Cape Coral utility customers could see a 30 percent increase in their bills beginning Oct. 1, after city council members voted 6-2 Monday in favor of a resolution that schedules a total 92.5 percent increase over five years.
Council members also said they are committed to going forward with the stagnant utilities expansion program before the new rates take effect, thereby bringing new customers into the system and lessening the amount of the total rate increase.
Average bills will rise from $81.97 this year to $103.70 on Oct. 1, according to a rate study issued in March assuming there would be no progress with the UEP.
The study showed that if the council moved forward with water, sewer and irrigation utilities in Southwest 6/7, and water only in North 1-8, the average bill would rise to $95.01.
“This assumes because it has stopped … we have very, very few connections coming in the future,” Financial Services Director Mark Mason told council members.
“If you do, in fact (proceed with SW 6/7 and North 1-8) then your overall rate adjustments would be significantly less,” he said.
Both the SW 6/7 and North 1-8 projects have experienced stop and go votes from council members in the past year, with many council members citing exorbitant assessments and fees — an average $17,000 for the 6,200 residents in SW 6/7, and an estimated $6,000 for the 57,000 lot owners in North 1-8 — as the main reason for stopping the projects.
Council members said the rate increase is a necessary evil to prevent the city from going into default on its bonds related to the UEP.
“I can’t stand it, I don’t like it, but we are where we are,” Mayor Burch said.
Before voting in favor of the hike, Councilmember Dolores Bertolini wanted to ensure other council members are on board with restarting the UEP, and she expressed exasperation with the recent back-and-forth votes.
“Frankly I’m tired, I’m tired of the seesaw,” Bertolini said, before polling council members on their position on the UEP.
The impromptu polling fell along the same lines as the vote for the rate increase, with Councilmembers Pete Brandt and Bill Deile — the two who voted against the hike — being the only ones to hesitate when asked about moving forward with the UEP.
Brandt took a stronger stand against the project, ruling further progress out altogether until it is fundamentally changed.
Deile answered “maybe” when polled about the possible continuation of the UEP.
“Not this year, and not with this contract,” Brandt said.
Councilmember Eric Grill said he will bring forth a plan to proceed with the UEP by June 8.
“This basically is moving the UEP forward so we don’t have to go on that rate,” he said.