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UEP — what’s next?

By Staff | Jul 25, 2009

The Cape Coral City Council’s narrow vote Monday to stop the contentious utilities expansion project saved thousands of residents in SW 6/7 and North 1-8 from costly assessments and fees for utilities, but the city’s problems with the project remain.
After endless debate and a series of stop-and-go votes, the status of the UEP is exactly the same it was one year ago: dormant.
Current utility customers in previous assessment areas are likely to see the most immediate consequences of the “no” vote on the UEP in the form of increased rates.
Average monthly utility rates were scheduled to rise from $81.97 to $95.01 this year had the UEP gone forward, but are now slated to rise to $103.70 on Oct. 1, thanks to the council’s reversal on the UEP.
Council members are looking for ways to mitigate the looming rate increase for current customers, but consensus on that issue could be as elusive as it proved to be for the UEP.
“We need to be finding a solution. Hopefully, we will get some relief for the ratepayers,” Councilmember Gloria Tate said.
Tate voted against the North 1-8 portion of the UEP Monday after voting in favor of the project June 8. She issued a memo this week suggesting a portion of property tax revenues, 0.5 mills, be used for operations and repairs for the utility system, thereby offsetting the required rate hike.
Other revenue-producing ideas may not have the political backing needed to pass, requiring the city to rely heavily on property taxes for funding, Tate said.
“People aren’t receptive to a public service tax, they’re not receptive to a fire assessment, the only thing they’re receptive to is ad valorem (property taxes),” Tate said.
But Tate’s idea to offset the utility rate increase may also not get off the ground.
“I am definitely not supportive of Gloria’s 0.5 mill business,” Councilmember Tim Day said.
Day sees no other alternative to the scheduled rate hike.
“I warned everybody those rates are going to go up,” Day said.
The future of the UEP itself is anybody’s guess. Most council members agree the project must move forward at some point, but not now and not soon.
“I think the public has had their share of emotional turmoil over this thing,” Day said.
Still, some on the dais would like to see a coherent plan in lieu of actual progress on the UEP.
“I don’t think (the council) can just sit back and say, ‘Oh well, leave it to the next council,'” Tate said.