Council spars over stormwater fee increase
If the Cape Coral City Council does nothing regarding its stormwater fees, its funds will be depleted in two years, and by 2020 could run a deficit of as much as $18 million.
That was the warning raised by City Manager John Szerlag and Public Works Director Steve The issue raised much debate by council about how to attack the problem, including the possibility of using money from its settlement with LCEC to help balance the budget.
Szerlag, Neff and Diane Kemp presented the 2015 Stormwater Cost Recovery Study which painted a gloomy picture of what could happen if stormwater ratepayers continued to pay the same $75 rate they have paid since 2006.
In that time, the city has outsourced street sweeping, performed a hybrid dredging operation of the canals, completed the Diplomat Parkway drainage project, replaced capital equipment, restated the UEP and completed Northwest and the balance of city stormwater master plans.
Meanwhile, the stormwater fund has dwindled from more than $21 million in 2011 to less than half that in 2014.
Council was urged to raise the rate or face funds running out by 2017. It was given five options to consider:
a. Do nothing
b. Raise rates to a five-year average of $101 to continue its current level of service.
c. Raise rates to a five-year average of $114 to improve overall service
d. Use the $2.7 million from the LCEC settlement and keep the current rates
e. Use the $2.7 million from the LCEC settlement and raise rates slightly.
Option C was recommended by staff, as new capital projects on the horizon include the redesign and reconstruction of weirs 1 and 20 and secondary drainage improvements and water quality projects at the cost of $7 million.
Council, which argued vehemently about the LCEC money during Monday’s City Council meeting, continued to debate two days later. Councilmember Richard Leon wanted to know what the end game would be if rates were raised.
“What does it take to fix the system. Can we project what the rates will be 20 or 30 years down the road? Will it be $180 once we build out?” Leon asked.
Leon suggested using the LCEC money on different things, including stormwater, road paving and other things.
Councilmember Jim Burch said using the LCEC money on stormwater would be kicking that can down the road.
“We can use the money to enhance paving. We need to bite the bullet and fix it now. Let’s go to $101. It’s tough, but it’s been at $75 since 2006,” Burch said.
There was also much agitation from Councilmember Derrick Donnell, who is concerned about adding the increased fee to the fire assessment.
“We can’t win. People aren’t going to see a $26 increase, they’ll see a nearly 50 percent increase,” Donnell said. “I don’t know how I’m going to rule.”
Burch and fellow Councilmenber John Carioscia also sparred over what previous councils did to rectify problems during the tough times.
“Previous councils didn’t have the intestinal fortitude to fix things. All we’ve done is fix the problems other councils didn’t,” Carioscia protested. “They stopped the UEP.”
“We cut everything 25 percent because we had no money. If we had ignored everything, we would have been wiped out. We took drastic action because we had to,” Burch said, who served on the council and briefly as mayor at the time.
Something that irritated everyone was that in 2007, when staff recommended a rate increase that went to $105 in 2011, council rejected it.
Still, there were fund surpluses into 2011. Neff said that was because many projects were deferred until times got better.
City Manager Szerlag recommended that the LCEC money go into accelerating the road paving program.