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Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

Stormwater fee approved for Anna Maria

After months of wrangling, Anna Maria city commissioners at a March 3 special meeting gave approval to an annual stormwater assessment fee of $80 per environmental resource unit for property owners. Commissioners also considered a fee as low as $52 and as high as $96.

The $80 for one ERU would be the amount of the annual fee for a single-family home in the city. Multi-family units would pay at a .6 per ERU rate per unit, while commercial properties would pay a 1.2 rate per unit.

The annual fee can only be used to fund stormwater improvement projects. The fee must still be passed by the commission in an ordinance and public hearing.

"This is better than taxes," said Larry Albert, chairman of the capital improvements advisory committee. "Higher taxes just disappear into the government. This way, we know the money is only for stormwater projects."

Commissioners agreed, but giving consensus to the fee amount proved the easy part of the meeting.

The commission spent nearly two hours discussing whether the city should borrow the estimated $1.6 million to complete the CIAC priority list of 17 projects within three years, or just use what stormwater fees that are collected each year plus any budgeted funds to pay for projects.

Commissioners Linda Cramer and Duke Miller said it would be prudent to borrow the money now, while the interest rates are low, then use the stormwater fee to pay back the money over the next 15 years. Doing the projects "piecemeal" will cost the city a lot more money in the long run.

Commissioners Dale Woodland and Carol Ann Magill along with Commission Chairperson John Quam were somewhat on the opposite side, suggesting that the city should first do the top two projects on the list before committing to any long-term loan for the remainder.

The city needs some "successes" first, said Woodland, before he would agree to a long-term loan. He suggested the city just take a loan for the first year's worth of projects, specifically North Shore Drive and Gladiolus Street. Cost estimates for the projects should include engineering design and permitting fees, he added.

He reminded commissioners that if they borrow the entire amount, the city will be obligated to repay the money, even if the projects are a failure. "I want to have some insurance" that these projects will work, he added.

Miller responded that the city could always "pull the plug" on the loan if projects weren't successful.

He said if the city didn't borrow the money now and do all the projects on the CIAC list during the next three years, costs would increase significantly every year the city delays. Construction costs are going up between 5 and 8 percent every year, according to Tom Wilcox of Baskerville-Donovan Inc., the city's engineering firm, Miller noted.

"We won't have enough money in our budget without raising taxes to do these projects" unless the city borrows the money now with the stormwater assessment fee used to pay off the loan. Interest rates are now around 3 percent and are likely to go up, he noted.

Albert agreed.

"You can lock in a $1.5 million loan now at the current rate," he noted. Additionally, the projects would be presented as one large project for a contractor, which would reduce the overall cost.

Cramer tried to compromise, suggesting the city just take a $100,000 loan for the first year to cover engineering design and permitting, "just to get the ball rolling.

"We don't have to go for the big loan now, we can wait until next year," she said, but acknowledged that rates could change.

Commissioners generally agreed to Cramer's suggestion, but will hold another special meeting on the issue in the very near future.

Better do it quick, said Quam. The deadline to submit the fee amount and ordinance to the Manatee County Tax Assessor's office is June 1.

Miller will check on current interest rates and report his findings at the commission's next stormwater fee meeting.

The loan for stormwater improvement projects would be from a Florida League of Cities program that provides low-interest loans to member cities. Miller will determine if the city can lock in a loan amount now at a specific interest rate, but only use what funds are necessary for particular stormwater projects during a fiscal year.

Quam said he would schedule another special meeting when Miller has his report ready.

At $80 per ERU, the stormwater assessment fee is expected to generate about $126,000 in annual revenue for stormwater projects, according to a report prepared by Chris Collins, chairman of the planning and zoning board.

Swiftmud approves North Shore Drive funding

At the same time Anna Maria city commissioners were approving an annual stormwater assessment fee, the Southwest Florida Water Management District announced it had approved a matching funds grant of $270,000 for the Gladiolus/North Shore Drive drainage project in the city.

The project will be funded with $135,000 from the city along with a matching amount from Swiftmud's Manasota Basin Board.

Swiftmud said the project would reduce flooding and improve water quality in the city.

The project involves installation of approximately 3,200 linear feet of 1-foot-deep dry retention swales, about 700 linear feet of polyurethane and reinforced concrete pipe, six inlet control structures and a baffle structure at each of the four basin outfall locations with the Gladiolus/North Shore Drive drainage basin.

The retention swales will treat about 12,800 cubic feet of stormwater runoff through percolation and evaporation. The baffles will treat the water through sedimentation and skimming, reducing the overall pollution to the canal system in Anna Maria, Swiftmud claimed.

Swiftmud also claimed the swales will increase the storage and conveyance capacity of the city's existing drainage system, which will help reduce flooding. The additional storage capacity of the swales will help contain stormwater runoff during high tide conditions, Swiftmud maintained.

While the Swiftmud announcement was welcome news to Anna Maria, it did not give a start date for construction of the project.