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UEP workshops to begin Wednesday

By Staff | Feb 13, 2010

With a 17 percent utility rate increase looming in October, city council will try to get a jump on finding a way to stave off that rate hike using Utility Expansion Project workshops, the first of which is Wednesday.
In digging back into the often controversial utilities project, city council hopes to to uncover not only a way to reduce the burden on current rate payers, but also lay a foundation for the project’s issues as whole.
Mayor John Sullivan has already volleyed an idea on how to reduce the rates by charging a fee to all property owners who have not paid impact fees for being hooked up to city water, roughly $300 – $400 a year, per property.
The annual charge would help to offset the monthly utility rates being paid by current rate payers, and help to pay down the debt of the North RO Water Plant, according to Sullivan.
While the idea has been met with mixed criticism so far, all of council agrees that something must be done to reduce costs, and reduce debt on the water plant.
District 6 Councilmember Kevin McGrail, whose district would see a lion’s share of the project, said he’s hoping council will be more consistent in their UEP decisions.
He said that flip-flopping votes from previous councils have not only drawn the ire of the citizenry, but blurred the council’s focus on the best course of action on the project.
“It was just an ugly situation,” McGrail said of the previous public outcry against the UEP. “I would consider it a low point in Cape Coral.”
McGrail added that the bottom line for these meetings is trying find a way to pay for the North Reverse Osmosis Water Plant, which has the city in debt to the tune of $97 million, though that number could be higher, depending on you talk to.
The debt will be, and has been, passed on to current rate payers but council is hoping the workshops will help them to provide otherwise.
District 5 Councilmember Eric Grill previously said he doesn’t foresee any new information coming out of this first meeting.
Grill also previously said he thinks the Northwest Ecosystem Spreader Agreement –due in March — will eventually force council’s hand to move forward with the UEP regardless, and thinks they should focus on those sections directly effected by the agreement, including Southwest 6/7 and west of Burnt Store Road.
Grill is worried too, that the meetings will slide into political posturing and not actually find any new solutions.
“I’m hopeful this meeting is not about people trying to get political credibility,” he said. “I hope their intent truly is to find some solutions to our utility issue and not just about gaining credibility …. I hope their hearts are in the right place.”
Mayor John Sullivan could not be reached for comment.
City council’s first Committee of the Whole meeting on the UEP is Wednesday, March 17, at 5 p.m. in city council chambers.