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Council still debating what to do with UEP

By Staff | Mar 2, 2011

City leaders are still worried that restarting the utilities expansion project will force people away from their homes and their lots and put Cape Coral “in the real estate business,” with some council members fearing those properties will revert back to the city.
While City Council struggles through its Committee of the Whole workshops — designed specifically to find a way to move the UEP forward — it’s become clear, at least to Councilmember Derrick Donnell, that continuing to wait for the right time might find those on the dais waiting in vain.
Donnell said rate-payers continue to shoulder the burden while council keeps “addressing what could happen.”
“At what point, with what we have, we’ll say we’re going to move forward with what we have. I only see the economics getting worse over the next five years,” he said, adding, “I’m not getting a feel for what economic driver is going to push the button.”
Council has spent these COW meeting listening to different presentations; some on various sewer systems, others on privatizing some of the city’s utility functions, some on rate history, but it has yet to reach a consensus on a strategy to restarting the UEP.
Mayor John Sullivan said moving too quickly will force the city into another bad situation, and might cause further suffering for the rate-payers, as well as making Cape Coral the “biggest real estate holder in the country” as the city suffers an exodus of property owners.
He said the city is “caught in a Catch-22,” and doesn’t believe that adding people to the system will have any real effect on the rates.
“If we do this wrong, or we’re forced, we end up owning a lot of real estate and lose the tax advantage … it took a lot of years to build this mouse trap to begin with, we’re stuck,” Sullivan said. “I’m not ready to squeeze the trigger on this yet.”
In other news, city council will likely vote at its next regular meeting in two weeks on whether or not to allow 373 property owners with liens on their properties for not hooking up to the system a one-time “get out of jail free card” of sorts, by allowing them to hook up to the system at the prime interest rate plus 2 percent, via ordinance.
“For one time only we will allow you to come in at the rate when you were supposed to,” City Attorney Dolores Menendez explained to the council.
Customer Billing and Assessment Services Manager Bill Boyd explained there were several properties that needed council to make a decision sooner than later, which prompted Sullivan to say it is “critical” to pass the ordinance and “figure out the details later.”