City council halts UEP for SW 6/7, North 1-8
About 57,000 lot owners in North 1-8 and 6,200 homeowners in Southwest 6/7 were spared thousands of dollars in assessments and fees Monday as the Cape Coral City Council again reversed its vote on the controversial utilities expansion project.
The average cost for assessments and fees for water utilities in North 1-8 was $6,000, and the average cost for assessments and fees for water, sewer and irrigation utilities in SW 6/7 was $17,000.
Councilmembers Gloria Tate and Eric Grill switched their vote in favor of the project on June 8, joining chronic UEP naysayers Councilmembers Pete Brandt and Bill Deile in voting against the project.
“I went back and forth the whole night,” Tate said.
She was put off by one especially controversial portion of the fees charged to property owners, the capital facility expansion charge, which allows unimproved properties to be assessed an impact fee despite not being able to take advantage of the utilities.
“The CFEC on the lot owners, that was for me the biggest angst,” Tate said.
The votes on North 1-8 and SW 6/7 came after council members heard more than five hours of public comment on the UEP.
The majority of speakers were against the project. Many said they would leave their home, whether by choice or because of the added assessments and fees, if the project passed at this time.
“It’s a great relief. It’s a huge weight off my shoulders,” said Greg Callan, a North 1-8 and lifelong Cape resident.
Given the back-and-forth nature of the project, Callan knows it is not the end of the road for the UEP in the north Cape.
But, he said, the current pause in the project allows the city time to develop more palatable solutions for residents of a city hit hard by some of the highest unemployment and foreclosure rates in the nation during the current recession.
“It’s not a definitive we’re going to put it on hold forever. I think you can see the city come out shining again,” Callan said.
Although the majority of speakers were against the progression of the UEP, some speakers voiced their frustration with the prospect of a 92.5 percent increase in utility rates over the next five years for current customers.
Even if the North 1-8 and SW 6/7 projects were approved, the utility rates were scheduled to increase 47.6 percent over the next five years.
“You cannot let fear and hate steer your vote tonight. I’m asking you tonight to do the job you were elected to do and represent the majority of Cape Coral, not the minority,” said Lyndia Bradley, a resident of SW 4, to a smattering of boos and applause from the packed council chambers.
The utility rate hike helps the city to cover the debt associated with the project and make up for a dearth of new customers joining the utility system, whether by the lack of progress in the UEP or the halt in growth projected by rate studies in previous years.
The average monthly utility bill is scheduled to rise from $81.97 currently to $120.99 in fiscal year 2014.
The first increase is scheduled to take effect Oct. 1, rising the average monthly bill to $95.01.