Guest Commentary: The Stormwater Utility Rip Off!

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I am a resident and property owner on Fort Myers Beach. Upon arriving mid-December I found island residents up in arms about the proposed Stormwater Utility Program (SUP) and fees. So I started to look into the facts about this program to determine for myself its justification, implementation and true cost. My conclusion is that this program is a monumental rip off to the property owners of FMB, as they will bear the full burden of this 20+ years, $34 million Program through the mandated fees being enacted! Here are the facts, you decide for yourself:

Information sources include the FMB Town Website, online Ordinance No. 15-08 Stormwater Utility document, online Executive Summary-Stormwater Master Plan Updated May, 2013, the online Stormwater Utility Property Lookup, other sources and common sense.

-I cannot find that the SUP is mandated by any Florida State or Federal Agency!

-The City has not decided which of 3 stormwater management options to implement as outlined in the Executive Summary, yet has already decided to impose fees for the “Cadillac +” stormwater system totaling more than $34Million over 20 years (assumes no fee increases during that 20 years?)!

-The City is trying to sneak this hidden tax by FMB property owners as a “utility fee” as they know that we will not approve any such “voluntary program taxation” by public vote! Florida State ordinances allow them to generate funds via such “fees” that the City can impose without public approval!

-Even though the consultant’s Executive Summary concluded that residential property owner stormwater management fees for the most expensive proposed option #3 would only be $11 per month, the City has published the monthly billing for all 8,500+ properties on the island and the base monthly fee per residence is $26.50! Business property fees of as much as $2,500/mo were found in this Property Lookup!

-Ordinance #15-08 is 12 pages long and approximately 50% of the ordinance deals with billing procedures to the FMB property owners. Including for example that 1) there are no exceptions to being billed for this Program, 2) if a property owner does not pay this fee they can cut off all services including electric, water, garbage collection, etc., 3) establishing a substantial (costly) management infrastructure within the City, 4) there is no end date for this Program thus these mandatory fees are forever and a day!

-Ordinance #15-08 establishes a basic stormwater runoff unit of measure referred to as an “Equivalent Residential Unit” (ERU), which is an impervious area of 4,414 sq. ft. on any property. Impervious area is defined by the City as anything but sand, grass or shells!  This means that, for example, they consider gravel, decks, pavers, sidewalks, mulch, etc, as impervious surfaces for the purposes of billing!

-Further ERU information- my personal ERU calculation:  Property size is 75’ x 85’ = 6,350 sq. ft.  I am listed as being billed for a full ERU (4,400 sq. ft. of impervious surface) even though my “actual” impervious surface area is only the roof of my house = less than 1,300 sq. ft.!  My parking area is gravel, my yard is grass, palm trees and flowering plants, I have approx. 1,000 sq. ft. of wood decks and another 1,000 sq. ft. of pavers all of which are fully pervious to rainwater and I have not observed any stormwater runoff for my property in the 6 years I have owned it! What is your real impervious surface area vs. what you are listed for in the Property Lookup?

-Follow the Money – I added up the monthly Stormwater Fees on all 185 pages of the Property Lookup and they total $141,479.41/mo = $1,697,752.92 annually = $33,955,058.40 over the 20 year program as described in the consultant’s Executive Summary! Remember, I could find no government mandate that FMB do any stormwater management program let alone a “Cadillac” system.

-Alternative Funding Sources – The Executive Summary points out that “with an implementation cost of $29.4Million (his 20 year estimated total cost so, why is the City wanting $34Million?) suggests the need to identify other sources of (project) funding and to immediately consider and aggressively pursue all forms of program assistance.”  What has the City done in this regard? Their billing plan indicates they have done nothing to find and acquire assistance funding on our behalf! Does that really mean that since this program is not mandated on the City, they are not qualified for any State or Federal assistance programs?

If you feel as I do that this Stormwater Utility Program is a rip off of all the FMB property owners, please help yourself and all other FMB property owners by taking at least these minimal steps: 1) contact FMB mayor and city council people about how you feel about this rip off by meeting, phone, letter, email, text, etc. and 2) attend the February 1 City Council Meeting where this Program is to be voted into existence by only the City Council members unless citizens stand up! Remember, these are our elected representatives who are to act for us per our wishes and they will be long gone while we pay and pay for this Ordinance forever and a day!

Mike Baker

Fort Myers Beach