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Protesters express opposition to city’s utilities expansion project

By Staff | Jul 14, 2009

Chants of “Now is not the time” and “I can’t afford it” could be heard Monday afternoon outside Cape Coral City Hall as about 75 people gathered to protest the imminent progression of the city’s utilities expansion project.
The UEP is poised to bring assessments and fees to the next two phases of the project, Southwest 6/7 and North 1-8.
For the 6,200 homeowners in SW 6/7 that means an average $17,000 bill for water, sewer and irrigation utilities. The 57,000 lot owners in North 1-8 face a $6,000 payment for water utilities.
During meetings last week designed to outline the payment options associated with the project — property owners can delay or defer payments until at least 2011 in SW 6/7, and at least 2012 in North 1-8 — residents expressed anger and outrage at city officials over the prospect of added payments during a distressed economic time.
That anger was echoed Monday as residents decried the project.
“My neighbor, she said if they go through with this she’ll lose her home,” said Tom Earl, a resident of SW 6/7, reflecting the fear among many UEP detractors that the project will add to Cape Coral’s staggering foreclosure statistics.
Earl, toting a sign that read “Council wants Cape to be #1 in foreclosures,” described the city council’s efforts to provide payment plans to allow time for the economy to recover before payments must be made as “too little, too late.”
The protest also attracted the owners of larger parcels who face larger assessments because the project’s assessment methodology is based on square footage.
“We’re being billed for 7 1/2 building units,” said Barry Chomey, a resident of North 1-8.
Although the deferment option, which allows property owners to put off payments for 10 years, may seem attractive to some, Chomey scoffed at the total amount he would owe under the option after interest accrues.
“If we put it off for 10 years and don’t make a payment, it’ll be $66,000,” he said.
The figure is based on city staff’s worst-case scenario estimate of an annual 7.5 percent interest rate.
While the group protested the UEP outside, new security measures greeted visitors of the city council’s workshop meeting held simultaneously in council chambers, situated in the City Hall complex.
Those who attended the meeting, including city staffers, underwent a metal detector wand scan by a police officer and were required to empty their pockets and allow searches of their bags before entering council chambers.
Two signs alerting citizens to the fact that “All persons entering this building are subject to search” were posted on either side of the council chambers.
The new security measures are the result of a private council meeting held before the public workshop, called in response to the loud, boisterous and sometimes profane reaction from residents during last week’s meetings.
Cape Coral Police Chief Rob Petrovich said the measures are intended to protect the public at large, not just council members.
“We have that obligation to keep our citizens safe so they can exercise their rights,” he said.
The additional measures are also partly a reaction to “veiled threats” received by city staffers.
“There were a few veiled threats, there weren’t any implicit threats,” Petrovich said.
Attendees of today’s meeting to hear public input on the UEP will encounter the added security measures.
The meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. at First Baptist Church of Cape Coral on Coronado Parkway.
Councilmember Bill Deile, who originally suggested the idea of using metal detectors, hinted that the new measures would subside as the public furor over the UEP recedes.
“I don’t think it’s going to be a permanent thing,” he said.