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Utility assessment plan gaining traction

By Staff | Oct 22, 2010

Cape Coral City Council could very well look to assess vacant lots for water, or sewer, or both.
The city would target the 16,000 or so lots that are in the “infill” areas that already have infrastructure in the ground but where owners of undeveloped properties have not yet paid impact fees. Members of council described such an assessment as a “capital reservation fee.”
Discussing the issue during a workshop meeting Thursday, Councilmember Pete Brandt said it was one option the city’s bond council thought would draw the least amount of negative attention, legal or otherwise.
“We ought to move on this right a way,” Brandt said.
The move could raise millions of dollars for the city in revenue, and help to bring down utility rates, officials said.
City staff recently worked to mitigate planned water rate increases, which were expected to increase 15 percent but were brought down to an 8.25 percent hike.
With the new rate, the average bill is now projected to be $111.49 next year.
The average bill for water and sewer is still projected to increase over the next four years, with the rate hike of 8.25 percent expected each year until 2014, when the rates are expected to increase 3.5 percent.
The possible revenue from assessing vacant lots could help lower those costs in future fiscal years, officials said.
“This is a major income stream for the ratepayers that should be looked at,” said Councilmember Kevin McGrail.
Still, Mayor John Sullivan preached caution, saying that assessments for lots that have lost significant value could cause even more people to simply walk away. Why would someone pay more in assessments than their lot is actually worth, Sullivan asked.
“I don’t want to sit here and end up owning half the real estate in Cape Coral,” Sullivan said. “We have to be careful how we do this … the lots will get thrown back at the city. We need to understand what the ramifications might be.”
Councilmember Chris Chulakes-Leetz said lots south of Pine Island Road retained much of their value, especially waterfront lots.
He said charging these fees would not be a “waste” for lot owners, and instead would be a “transfer of equity”.
“I think property owners would understand the city is moving forward for the big picture,” he said. “We may be creating a very positive thing. Maybe not five years, or 10 years from now, but for 25 years out from now.”
In other news, Councilmember Pete Brandt is still looking into United Water as a privatized option for the city’s water.
In a report to council on Thursday, Brandt said he hadn’t researched cities of similar size to Cape Coral that have used United Water.
Councilmember Marty McClain suggested touching base with Atlanta, GA, Indianapolis, IN, Milwaukee, WI, among others.
Kevin McGrail said comparing Cape Coral to cities of dissimilar size was like comparing “apples to mangoes”.