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Date of Issue: August 20, 2008

Stormy waters for Anna Maria utility fee

The complaints have begun to flood city hall regarding the proposed amount property owners will pay for the stormwater utility fee recently enacted by the city commission.

Commissioners set the base ESU - environmental services unit - at $45 for a single-family residence that encompasses 2,254 square feet of impervious surface on a property.

But some property owners are not happy about any fee or assessment, claiming it’s just another word for tax.

Property owner Thomas Peters of Magnolia Avenue blistered the commission in a letter for its decision to implement the fee.

“I object that the city has gone right for a fee far above the minimum,” Peters said. “I view this as a grab for more money that will never be accounted for, nor justified, nor ever go away or go down.”

Peters claimed that even after the Florida Legislature ordered counties and municipalities to “roll back the taxes,” Anna Maria and other cities “refuse to hear the voice of the people.”

Peters said he is “tired of our elected officials going through our pockets for every piece of spare change they can find.”

Although the city calls it a fee, Peters claims its still a tax and commissioners should have put the issue to a vote by residents.

“You just don’t get it,” Peters said. “Most of us just want to be left alone and not feel someone’s hand in our pocket.”

Other letters to the commission carried a similar tone.

City Commissioner Dale Woodland, who spent more than a year researching aspects of the fee, said he empathizes with Peters.

“I don’t think the people will realize the benefits of the fee until a few years from now,” he said.

At one time, the commission favored a $50 ESU, but lowered the amount after determining that maintenance costs had been slightly inflated in the original stormwater budget reviewed earlier this year.

The commission determined the ESU after city engineer Tom Wilcox examined the size and drainage impact of all 1,618 non-vacant parcels in the city.

Wilcox said duplexes, on average, occupy 1,160 square feet of impervious surface.

 Commissioners agreed these properties will be charged at a .51 rate ($22.95) for each ESU, or a total of $45.90 for the two units. Condominiums will pay a .91 ESU ($40.95), while vacant lots of average size will be levied at a .21 ESU rate, or $9.45.

Because the fee is set by resolution, it can be amended or withdrawn by the commission at any time. Property owners can appeal the amount and several have opted for the process.

Woodland said the city’s fee is “designed to go away in a few years.

He added that the fee should maintain the city’s drainage infrastructure, which had not been addressed for several decades.

City treasurer Diane Percycoe has noted that, by law, the accounting of all expenses and income for stormwater maintenance and the accompanying fee have to be kept separate from other city revenues and expenses. The stormwater utility fee can only be used for stormwater maintenance and the city can’t borrow from other sources if there’s a shortfall in the maintenance budget.

Public works director George McKay said he believes he can accomplish the required maintenance work with the present city staff.

The commission has said it will review the fee annually.

The commission was scheduled to hold a public hearing on Phase 2 of the city’s master stormwater drainage plan Aug. 18, after The Islander’s press deadline.