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Council brings SW 6/7 back again

By Staff | Jul 27, 2009

The utilities expansion project for Southwest 6/7 is back on the Cape Coral City Council’s agenda.
One week after voting down the project — and in which was ostensibly the same meeting — council members voted 4-2 Monday in favor of resurrecting the UEP in SW 6/7.
Councilmember Dolores Bertolini, who voted against the project last week despite having been an consistent supporter of the UEP, brought the subject back up for discussion.
The issue for Bertolini was showing citizens the council had a clear plan for the UEP, and that there were only two ways to approach the project.
“Either we stop the utilities program for two, three or four more years . . . or we vote on all three utilities in SW 6/7,” Bertolini said.
Moving forward with water, sewer and irrigation utilities in SW 6/7 was the more favorable option for Bertolini, but some council members were apoplectic at the prospect of rehashing what is easily the city’s most controversial issue.
“Talk about yo-yo,” said Councilmember Pete Brandt, who voted against the motion to reconsider the project.
In one year the council has voted for and against the SW 6/7 portion of the UEP four times.
Even those who voted in favor of the motion expressed exasperation with the controversial project.
“We just don’t get it. We’re messing with people’s lives,” said Councilmember Derrick Donnell, who voted in favor of the motion.
“If there’s anything I have learned, it’s that this is a great example of how not to govern,” he added.
Last week, council members voted against water utilities for the area north of Pine Island Road in addition to halting the SW 6/7 portion of the UEP.
At that meeting, hundreds of residents from those areas packed the council chambers to voice their opposition to the project, after having been screened by metal detectors.
Many residents gave their account of how the project, which would bring $17,000 in average assessments to 6,200 homeowners in SW 6/7, would bring added hardship on them during an already depressed economic time.
There were about a dozen residents at Monday’s meeting, and the metal detectors and heavy police presence that marked last week’s meeting were not there.
The previous meeting also stretched into the early morning hours before the UEP vote was given, prompting council members to call a special meeting to be held Monday to handle agenda items not related to the UEP.
Bertolini also asked a discussion item on the UEP be placed on the agenda.
She explained her reversal on the subject stemmed from her uncertainty last week of the status of the project’s bid.
“At that point I was not settled. They were saying maybe they were going to redo the contract, there just weren’t a lot of concrete answers,” Bertolini said.
Part of the move to reconsider the SW 6/7 project stemmed from wanting to save current utility customers from an increase in rates.
Utility customers face a 92.5 percent increase in their average monthly bill over the next five years because the SW 6/7 and North 1-8 projects did not move forward.
If both projects had moved forward, there would be a 47.6 percent increase in average monthly rates over five years.
Financial Services Director Mark Mason estimated that moving forward with SW 6/7 and stopping North 1-8 would mean an 85 percent increase in monthly rates over five years.
For utility customers, that would mean the current average monthly bill of $81.97 would rise to $151.64 by fiscal year 2014 instead of $157.79.
Councilmembers Gloria Tate and Tim Day joined Bertolini and Donnell in voting for the motion to reconsider SW 6/7. Councilmember Eric Grill voted with Brandt in opposition. Mayor Jim Burch abstained because his company, DRMP, did design work for SW 6/7. Councilmember Bill Deile was absent.
City staffers must resend the assessment notices to residents in SW 6/7. Another public hearing date for the project is set for Aug. 31.
Even supporters of SW 6/7 are wary of the council’s fickle nature when it comes to the UEP.
“I’m not convinced. I’m going to wait and see,” said Lyndia Bradley, whose parents live in SW 6/7.