Stormwater Utility: Steele Offers Alternative to $25.50 Fee

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    On Monday, February 1st, the Town Council of Fort Myers Beach will face an important decision on a topic that’s created no small amount of controversy over the last few weeks – implementation of a fee to pay for the Town’s new stormwater utility. At their workshop on January 19th, Council moved forward with Town staff’s recommendation of $26.50 per ESU (Equivalent Stormwater Unit). Whether they adopt that amount or not is a decision they will make on Monday at a Public Hearing that begins at 2:00 pm. This week we met with Audit Committee member Jim Steele who explained an alternative that may be more palatable to residents.

    “On February 18th, 2014, CDM Engineering presented Council with an updated version of the Stormwater Master Plan (SMP), which was first created in 2010,” Steele said. “In that report, three problem areas were identified for improvements: the areas around Bay Road, Andre Mar and Sterling.”

    The report, which is available online at the Town’s website: www.fortmyersbeachfl.gov (click Your Government >Town Council >Meeting & Agendas >Agenda Archives Jan-July 2014 > February 18 Work Session) also called for a number of Best Management Practices (BMP’s) and 3 alternatives for the problem areas: clean and maintain existing system, fully connect existing system and replace existing system – with a recommendation for the latter, something Steele endorses as well. The report also called for an expansion of the operations and maintenance of the existing stormwater system for the rest of the island, as well as looking into installing additional infrastructure as needed.

    “We have a stormwater system in place now, and many of the problems could probably be eliminated if the Town maintains what it’s got – clean out the swales and drains that have become clogged,” Steele said. “The entire island does not need a complete stormwater makeover like the one presented to Council by Tetra-Tech. Not all areas are the same – some places need help and some need very little.”

    Steele recommends adopting the plan presented to Council in 2014, which would replace the stormwater system for the three problem areas.

    “The estimated cost was $3,608,000, which would now be about $4,000,000 with 3.5% inflation,” he said. “Also include $2,000,000 for additional outflows and other enhancements for a total of $6,000,000. The Town also needs to improve their current maintenance of the existing system. About $45,000/year is currently being spent, which would go to $162,000 (in today’s dollars) for the existing system and the three problem areas. The first year start up cost would be $50,000, plus $50,000 for administration and $45,000 for the rental of a vactor truck.”

    This could be accomplished by establishing an ESU of $19.98, 25% lower than the current proposal of $25.50.

    “After four years, the project would be done and that fee could be reduced to $9.99 which would cover the maintenance costs going forward,” Steele said. “If they find – during those first four years – that they need additional projects, then they wait longer to reduce the fee.”

    Jim showed us a cash flow analysis chart he’d created for this proposal, which showed how the $2,000,000 loan would be repaid by year two, allowing for a stormwater fund with a reserve of at least 15% to be established by year three.

    “The Town is now in a dilemma because it has waited too long to adopt a stormwater utility fee – they have spent $2 million, yet there is no money in the stormwater fund,” Steele continued. “I believe they should amend the ordinance passed in September of 2015 (15-08) to eliminate inconsistencies and conflicts, set a stormwater fee of $19.98, and spend the rest of 2016 determining the rate of service that is affordable and best suits the Town and finalize the facilities plan.”

    According to Steele, this would allow the Town to begin repaying the $2,000,000 and increase maintenance while looking into funding sources and applying for the State Revolving Loan Fund (SRLF).

    “A big thing with the SRLF will be what happens if the Charter Amendment allowing the Town to borrow for longer than 3 years passes,” Steele said. “This would allow the Town to lock in a 20-year-loan at the current rate of 2%, rather than have to re-apply in three years when that number could very well go up.”

    Keri Hendry Weeg