By Mike Lednovich
Four city commissioners voted Tuesday to ignore the advice of their paid experts and lowered the capacity fee charged for new homes and business structures hooking up to the city stormwater system.
Mayor Bradley Bean, Vice Mayor David Sturges along with Commissioners Darron Ayscue and James Antun cast votes to lower the fee 9% to $3,000. A state stormwater expert hired by the city along with the city’s Stormwater Director Andre Desilet both supported raising the capacity fee to $10,040.
The higher capacity fees would have contributed to the city Utility Department paying off $2.1 million in debt that was used to maintain and expand the capacity of the water and sewer system. The higher fee would also contribute to replacement of the city’s lift stations, which are 40 years old and cost $300,000 each to replace.
The obligation to pay that debt and replace lift stations stays with city residents. “The current rate payers are subsidizing development,” said Commissioner Chip Ross, who opposed lowering the fee. “We hired an expert who has given us an opinion. Our own expert has given us an opinion. Either the current (city) users are going to pay more the future users are going to pay more. I think it makes it equitable that future users should pay.”
The capacity fee is a one-time charge to new residential and commercial buildings for connections to the water and sewer system. The fees are used to reimburse the Utility Department for the capital costs necessary to provide increased capacity to serve these new customers.
“I agree with this study and think Option B (the $10,040) fee represents the best for the long term health and viability of our utility. There’s always the option of phasing that increase in,” Desilet said.
In August, Florida Rural Water Association Consultant Katherine Van Zant told commissioners “What you’ve done with existing capacity fees since 2015, you’re not getting sufficient money for the (system) capacity that people are getting.”
Mayor Bean said “This initiation fee, they’re still going to pay $3,000 when they join the city. That’s four digits, that’s a lot of money. The proposal to make it $10,000, that is simply too much money, I would argue. For that reason I’m voting yes on Option A (the $3,000 fee).”