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Utility expansion gets final nod

By Staff | Aug 22, 2013

The next phase of the city of Cape Coral’s Utility Expansion Project received final approval Wednesday with neither the anticipated crowd or fireworks.

Police had closed off the main entrance to city hall on Cultural Park Boulevard while maintenance people set up chairs outside the council offices for people to view the proceedings, in anticipation of an overflow crowd during the special city council meeting on the Southwest 6 & 7 utilities expansion project.

But at 4:30 p.m., there were still plenty of good seats available in council chambers. And generally speaking, the meeting had all the fireworks of a backyard display on the Fourth of July; a few small explosions.

Council approved the entire UEP package, including the assessments, the revolving loan agreements, construction contracts and staging areas, with all but the latter in 6-2 votes.

Councilmember Rana Erbrick expressed relief the nearly 18 month ordeal is finally over, saying UEP, if anything, was long overdue.

“This is something the city has slated for a long time. Fifty-four percent of the properties are built, well past where we like them before we consider projects like these,” Erbrick said. “Once density gets too intense, especially with quarter acre lots, the state has worked with us because they knew we have the plan.”

The $103.7 million project will encompass a four-square-mile area south of Pine Island Road. It will cost residents $15, 408 if they pay early from now until Oct. 31, which includes a 20 percent discount on the Capital Facility Expansion charge of $6,750. If they pay from Nov. 1 to July 31, 2014, residents will pay $15,824.

Otherwise, residents will be billed in a 20-year plan which will total $24,414. None of the final costs include the additional hook up costs, which could run another $1,600.

The city will offer a hardship program that will allow for a deferment of payments.

The 20-year plan will have much of the payments up front, with $13,074 due in the first six years, or about $181.58 a month.

The remaining $11,340 over the final 14 years will cost residents $67.50 per month.

The city will pay for the bulk of the project through a state revolving fund loan at rates around 2 percent.

Seven contractors will work in the 10 zones that make up Southwest 6 & 7. Their contracts were tentatively approved, to be signed once the financing is secured.

Most during public comment objected to the UEP, though the tone was more civil among the residents and council members than the last meeting, where tempers flared in all directions.

Also, more surprising to many, was how council chambers was barely more than half-full, a number that dwindled as the night progressed as many said their piece and left, knowing what the result would be.

Those who came did have a lot to say, though most of it was to protest the cost and that many people couldn’t afford it.

There were some interesting arguments. John Traube asked if some members of council had something to gain, while Charlie Myers did some research that showed the average household income in one of the ZIP codes in the UEP area was about $28,000, as opposed to the ZIP code he lift, where the average income was $104,000.

There were a few supporters who came to the podium to speak. Edward Krantz said he was tired of ratepayers being asked to carry the burden (and they are expected to get a 3 percent rate reduction) and that the UEP is needed to grow the city’s economy.

“No commercial entities will come here to a well and septic tank,” Krantz said. “With our density, if we don’t do this, the state will mandate it.”

But aside from a few protestations and a man who yelled good-bye to council in numerous languages, it was relatively calm.

Council also was more civil.

“We’ve been moving on this for two years to get the best price, financing and oversight for any project in the history of this city,” Councilmember Kevin McGrail said. “There is no hidden agenda here.”

Opponents such as Councilmember Chris Chulakes-Leetz and Mayor John Sullivan were more muted and had little to say before using their two no votes on every measure, except one that allowed the contractors to use city property to stage their equipment.

The City Council also voted unanimously to cancel all future UEP?workshop meetings indefinitely.

As for those who believe now is not the time because nobody can afford it, Erbrick said it is the time, and that they need to understand the bigger picture.

“You get through it. You buckle down, you budget like all of us do every day. We have sympathy for that,” Erbrick said. “This is the larger picture. We need the city to grow, we need jobs. The commercial in the area finally has a chance to reach its potential because the services will be there.”