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Commission paves way for stormwater tax
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Rainwater pours into Pinellas County’s storm drains, taking with it debris, chemicals and other materials that can affect local water quality.
CLEARWATER – Pinellas County Commissioners took the next step toward a possible stormwater tax for unincorporated residents at a Feb. 12 public hearing.

A resolution that reserves the use of the uniform method of collecting non-ad valorem assessments for surface water management passed unanimously.

County Administrator Bob LaSala said passing the resolution of intent only preserves the commission’s right to levy the tax in the future.

“This keeps the door unlocked, but does not bind you in any way,” he said.

The resolution states that Pinellas County “is contemplating” levying non-ad valorem assessments to pay for stormwater services, facilities, programs and management systems within unincorporated areas to be collected annually. Collection of the assessment could begin in November, if the commission moves in that direction.

Commissioner Norm Roche said he objected to the resolution’s wording that “says we acknowledge, need and intend to do it.”

LaSala said it was necessary to maintain legal language.

“Your decision (to levy) remains to be made,” LaSala said.

Roche said more discussion was necessary before deciding if the assessment was the best way to fund the program.

“It would still take another vote to implement this,” Commission Chair Ken Welch said. “We do need another discussion.”

LaSala said staff planned to present the stormwater master plan to the commission in a work session in April or May. Welch added that many of the county’s municipalities had master plans. Some cities already collect a stormwater fee.

Pinellas County has no revenue source dedicated to paying for stormwater programs. Transportation Trust Fund money can be used for stormwater needs related to roadways; however, the transportation fund is running out of money. And, not all stormwater needs involve roadways.

Roche advocates consolidation of plans and programs.

Over the last 10 years, there’s been discussion about stormwater and some cooperation, Commissioner Karen Seel said. She said some cities would support consolidation if the county took over and paid for the program, but added that several municipalities have programs in place with very high standards, which would be costly to maintain.

Kelli Levy, Watershed Management section manager, said staff had met with all the cities and found that the bigger ones already were doing a good job of stormwater management.

“They all would like more money,” she said.

And, while there were no no’s, consolidation is a large issue to find agreement on, she said.

“Consolidation is not taking place anytime soon,” she added.

“Step 1, we need to fix our business in the unincorporated areas,” Seel said.

Levy agreed, saying incremental steps and better watershed plans could make it possible to collaborate with the cities and Southwest Florida Water Management District on a consolidated stormwater management program.

Commissioner Janet Long advocated moving forward.

“Pinellas Park is excited that we’re stepping up to the plate and addressing this,” said Commissioner John Morroni. “We should all help keep our waterways clean and also make sure we have no double tax.”
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