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Date of Issue: September 03, 2008

Last-minute pitch to halt stormwater fee fails

After more than three years of discussions and 10 public hearings dating back to May 2007, Anna Maria city commissioners were more than ready at Aug. 28 to adopt a stormwater utility fee.

But a group of city residents led by Alice Newlon and former City Commissioner Tom Skoloda protested the action.

 Newlon presented a petition signed by more than 150 residents calling on the commission to forget the fee and find money for stormwater maintenance in the city budget - and to do it without raising taxes.

The city has enough problems with this issue that the commission should reconsider, Skoloda said, adding that saying this a “fee” is a misnomer. “This is a tax,” he said.

“This should come out of the budget,” Skoloda said, and it opens the door to fees by the city on a variety of items.

 Newlon agreed. “We are afraid because cities are starting to add fees” in place of taxes because the Legislature has ordered that taxes be held to levels of 2006. 

 “Make hard choices and find the money in the existing budget,” she urged the commission.

Commissioners said they appreciated the concern, but some wondered why residents had come late to the table.

 Commission Chairman John Quam said the commission has been discussing the issue for three or four years and public hearings started 15 months ago.

 “Now, at the last minute, you are coming forward,” he said.

Quam noted that the city is required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to improve the quality of its stormwater runoff. Maintenance of those stormwater drainage projects will help ensure the water quality meets EPA standards, he indicated.

Commissioner Dale Woodland, who was at the forefront of creating the fee, agreed this was a tax.

But the fee addresses an issue that has festered in the city without action for quite some time, he said.

The city will have a dedicated fund for stormwater maintenance and Woodland said he was “proud to be a backer” of the fee.

With two projects completed under the master stormwater drainage plan and a third in the planning stage, passage of the fee allows the city to “protect our investment,” Woodland said.

After hearing a number of other speakers against the fee, the commission unanimously voted to approve the resolution. The resolution also includes an appeal process and requires the commission to examine the fee amount on an annual basis.

The petitioners weren’t really a day late with their protests, but they were $45 short in their effort to halt implementation of the fee.

The resolution sets the fee at $45 per ESU (equivalent stormwater unit) annually for a single-family residence that encompasses 2,254 square feet of impervious surface on a property.

Duplex owners will be charged at a .51 ESU rate ($22.95) for each unit, while condominiums will pay a .91 ($40.95) ESU. Vacant lots of average size will be levied at .21 of the ESU rate, or $9.45.

Because the fee was enacted as a resolution, it can be amended or withdrawn by the commission at any time.

Following the vote, state Rep. Bill Galvano presented his legislative update for the 2008 session and praised the commission for making “tough decisions” on difficult issues.

He noted that the Legislature gets “pushed” by the federal government and the Legislature, in turn, pushes on cities and counties.

In other business, commissioners approved an amendment to the city’s site plan procedures and authorized Mayor Fran Barford to begin the ordinance amendment process with the planning and zoning board regarding issues approved by consensus of the commission and board at an Aug. 21 joint session.

The commission also authorized the mayor to sign a contract to repave a section of Gulf Drive between Willow and White streets at a cost of $11,500, and resurface the humpback bridge on North Bay Boulevard for $11,860.

Commissioners also approved a $20,000 increase in the city’s 2008-09 contract with the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office because fuel costs have increased since the original contract was signed in April. The new contract calls for the city to pay $655,500 for law enforcement services this fiscal year.

Resident Jim Conoly said paying the MCSO is one of the best investments the city has ever made.

“We have better service than towns around us,” he said.

 Commissioners also approved an $11,000 contract to repave a portion of Gulf Drive and gave consent for $11,860 for resurfacing the humpback bridge on North Bay Blvd.

 

Site plan amendment continued

Commissioners held off on approving the second reading of an amendment to the city’s site plan review procedures, continuing the issue to the Sept. 25 commission meeting.

 

Former mayor named to transportation grant committee

The commission approved Mayor Fran Barford’s nomination of former Mayor SueLynn as a member of the city’s transportation grant enhancement committee. The TEG is establishing a list of priority projects that will be funded by the city’s upcoming $370,000 federal grant for Pine Avenue improvements.