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Public meeting on UEP draws hundreds

By Staff | Jul 15, 2009

The church setting was appropriate Tuesday evening.
Shouts of “amen” and “hallelujah” echoed throughout First Baptist Church of Cape Coral during a special meeting to hear public input on the controversial Cape Coral utilities expansion project.
A crowd of roughly 1,000 people, the vast majority of whom are residents opposed to the project, gathered to voice their opinion on the UEP to city council members.
“Why are you inflexible? Why does this have to be done now?” North 1-8 resident Jeremy Feraci asked council members to the rapturous applause of the crowd.
Many residents in North 1-8, which face assessments and fees averaging $6,000 for water utilities, and in Southwest 6/7, which face assessments and fees averaging $17,000 for water, sewer and irrigation utilities, are upset at the prospect of an additional bill during harsh economic times.
It was a theme repeated throughout Tuesday’s meeting.
“It’s not that people don’t want to spend the money, it’s that they don’t have the money to spend,” Cape resident Holly Bisorti said.
“I got a $17,000 bill,” SW 6/7 resident Don Floyd said. “I ain’t got it.”
Council members have implemented payment options — some of which were unavailable in previous assessment areas of the UEP — that allow residents in SW 6/7 to delay or defer payments until at least 2011 and residents in North 1-8 to delay or defer payments until at least 2012.
Residents in attendance Tuesday said the payment options are not enough during one of the worst recessions in living memory.
The mood of the crowd could be sensed before the meeting when security checks bottlenecked those gathered, sparking chants of “Let us in.”
Metal detectors and an extra police presence were put in place partly in response to the visceral anger and obscenities directed toward city staffers during informational meetings on the UEP last week.
When they did get in, residents in the North 1-8 had a similar refrain: they expected utilities, but not this year.
“I had to sell almost all my property up north because when I made that investment in the future of Cape Coral we didn’t expect that to happen,” said Joyce Wyman.
“That area was previously not scheduled to receive utilities for at least five years,” she said.
Although the majority of the 93 speakers Tuesday voiced opposition to the UEP’s progress at this time, some spoke in favor of it.
“I’m talking on behalf of the silent majority that is not here tonight. We have to make a decision about whether this is going to be a hamlet or a city,” said Irwin Gordon, a southwest Cape Coral resident.
Current utilities customers in areas such as the southwest portion of the city, which have already seen assessments, face a utility rate hike of 92.5 percent over the next five years if the project does not move forward.
However, utility rates are projected to increase 47.6 percent even if the project advances.
Most residents realize utilities will come to the remaining areas eventually, but pleaded with council members to delay the UEP.
“This comes down to two very small words: not now,” North 1-8 resident Manny Castro said.