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City staffers again face opposition on UEP from citizens

By Staff | Jul 8, 2009

A meeting designed to outline payment options for the 57,000 lot owners north of Pine Island Road who face assessments averaging $6,000 for water utilities turned into a platform for boos, shouts and catcalls Tuesday as residents expressed their frustration and anger at the looming fees.
Unlike a similar meeting held June 30 for residents in the Southwest 6/7 area of the utilities expansion project, in which many walked out after being told the UEP itself would not be discussed, most of the 400 in attendance Tuesday stayed at least halfway through a presentation on payment options.
The meeting was nonetheless combative as residents expressed their opposition to the project.
“No water! No water!” one woman shouted.
As Financial Services Director Mark Mason explained that the whole assessment is not a lien on a property, many residents who dispute that claim attempted to shout Mason down.
“If I don’t pay the assessment there’s not going to be a lien on my property?” one man asked aloud.
Mason clarified that if a resident chooses the amortized payment option which finances payments over 20 years, with an annual amount appearing on the tax bill, the yearly amount would constitute a lien on the property until it is paid.
City Manager Terry Stewart stepped in to try to calm the crowd.
“Let me try this one more time, please,” he said.
Stewart and Mason were able to get through the presentation and explain all of the payment options, but not before many in the crowd walked out, frustrated at the prospect of an extra bill during a deep recession.
“It’s tough times here. I hope (the city council) doesn’t pass it,” said Carlos Heredia, a lot owner in the north Cape who walked out of the meeting early.
“The central issue is timing. We’re in the biggest recession Cape Coral has ever been in,” said Greg Callen, a north Cape resident.
There are three payment options for residents who live north of Pine Island Road, an area of the UEP known as North 1-8.
The prepayment option, which must be selected before Oct. 23, carries with it a 20 percent discount, meaning the owner of a 10,000-square-foot lot would pay $4,800 instead of $6,000.
In the amortized option residents would pay off the assessments and fees over 20 years, with the bill appearing annually on their tax bill beginning in 2012. For those with a 10,000-square-foot lot that means estimated annual payments of $1,053 at an estimated maximum interest rate of 7.5 percent.
Residents can also defer payments for 10 years. Compounding interest at an estimated 7.5 percent would increase the final amount to $16,570 for a 10,000-square-foot lot, if no payments are made over the 10-year period.
But some residents are not impressed with the payment options and fear the new assessments and fees could force more people into foreclosure.
“We have to pay, we don’t have a choice unless you want to lose your home,” said Jack Gallagher, a SW 6/7 resident who was holding signs outside Tuesday’s meeting to protest the UEP.
“This weekend two houses on our street just moved out,” he said.
Similar meetings will be held at 5:30 p.m. today and Thursday at Mariner High School.
A special, city council meeting on the UEP will be held at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in council chambers at City Hall, at 1015 Cultural Park Blvd.
Council will hold a final vote on the project at the July 20 meeting, which begins at 4:30 p.m. in council chambers at City Hall.