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Utility plan methodology gets nod

By Staff | Jun 7, 2013

It isn’t often that a plan to spend more money on anything in the city gets cheered.

But that’s what happened after the Cape Coral City Council approved the methodology of how to charge residents for the upcoming Utilities Expansion Project in Southwest 6 & 7 during a special meeting Wednesday at City Hall.

The institutional properties, mainly the area churches, won’t see its subsidy decreased, which made many in the audience cheer when the 6-2 vote was made.

Of the 14 institutional parcels in Southwest 6 & 7, nine are churches, and virtually all the pastors of those churches were in attendance at the meeting, along with their parishioners.

What will change is that the subsidy, which is about $238,000 per year, will be paid through the city’s general fund and not the water and sewer fund.

That made the decision slightly more palatable for Councilmember Rana Erbrick, who was poised to vote against the measure before the change in payee was made.

“I did not like the idea of just the ratepayers. If we’re going to be supportive of these institutions, then just paying it on the ratepayers instead of with all property owners, I’m glad we moved back to that,” Erbrick said.

Ratepayers constitute roughly just one-third of Cape Coral residents, and roughly 40 percent in Southwest 6 & 7.

The official methodology of treating the institutional properties is two equivalent parcels for every three acres of parcel area.

That means the city will pay 85 percent of what the institutional properties would have to pay, which is pretty much the way it’s been since the mid 1990s.

“It’s a benefit that has stood the test of time, and I believe it’s the fairest way to move forward,” Councilmember Kevin McGrail said. “We don’t ever want to tax the churches out of existence.”

The decision to have the general fund subsidize churches made Councilmember Chris Chulakes-Leetz happy, after he was the one who brought it up two weeks ago.

However, he wasn’t satisfied enough to approve the measure because he also wanted the city to use the linear methodology, where the amount of frontage would be the criteria on which to charge residents.

“That would give me two of the three I wanted and I can live with that compromise,” Chulakes-Leetz said. “It would take the problem with larger lots off the table.”

He also balked at giving a 20 percent discount for up-front payments, saying it benefitted the rich and left the poor to foot the bill.

Mayor John Sullivan also had a problem with the square-footage method, though he preferred a hook-up fee – where people would pay the same amount according to how many inches of pipe and how much inflow they have – instead of linear footage assessment.

“You can have a 1,700 square foot home on a quarter-acre, and the same house on one acre, and the house on one acre would pay four times as much,” Sullivan said. “It’s not equitable. I wouldn’t have supported it anyway.”

Going forward, the initial UEP assessment resolution will be introduced on July 17 and 24, with the final assessment resolution on Aug.14 and the approval and final assessment on August 21.