Pinellas County’s new stormwater fee for unincorporated residents is tiered with a lower fee for smaller properties.
CLEARWATER – The public said now is not the time to add more fees. They cited rising taxes, water bills, electric bills and higher insurance costs.
However, most did agree that something should be done to fix deteriorating water quality. Kelli Levy, the county’s Surface Water coordinator, said 74 percent of Pinellas’ water bodies are impaired. The public also agreed that aging infrastructure should be repaired. Levy said failing pipes are now an almost daily occurrence.
Still, the majority protested fees that are increasing taxes for some by as much as 25 percent. They said it was too much, too fast.
Pinellas County Commission Chair Ken Welch sympathized with the 30 or so speakers who attended the Sept. 10 public hearing.
“They’ll never be a perfect time,” he said just before the vote was taken. “I understand times are rough.”
Commissioners voted 6-1 to enact the fee, which will appear on the 2014 tax bill.
Many residents complained that they weren’t aware of the fee until it was included on the Truth in Millage Notice mailed out Aug. 19. Others complained that the notice of Tuesday night’s meeting wasn’t adequate. A notice had been included in the envelope with the TRIM Notice, but some said they didn’t get one.
Some complained that their bills were too high. Levy admitted that about 17,000 tax bills had been amended thus far due to calculations that had included pool cages. She urged people to ask for help if they believe their bills are incorrect. For more information, people also can visit www.pinellascounty.org/environment/watershed/stormwater-fee.htm.
The fees are tiered and unincorporated residents are being charged due to the size of their property. The fee for smaller homes is about $69.90 a year, $116.60 for a medium home and $266.80 for a large home. The fees are based on properties’ impervious surfaces from which rainwater flows into streets, ditches, storm drains and then on to streams, lakes and finally Tampa Bay of the Gulf of Mexico.
Storm water contains pollutants and those pollutants must be removed from the county’s water bodies per federal and state regulations. The county needs money to clean up its water bodies and keep them clean, or face fines, which County Administrator Bob LaSala said would likely require even higher taxes and fees to pay for the cleanup as well as improving the stormwater system.
Commissioner Norm Roche voted no and continued to push for a countywide program.
“Water is everyone’s problem,” he said.
He made a motion against approval of the storm water fee to allow consideration of a “true countywide approach.” His motion died for lack of a second.
Commissioner Susan Latvala agreed with Roche’s theory, but pointed out that the county needed to work on its own problems before asking the county’s municipalities to become a partner to combat the problem. Currently 15 of 24 municipalities collect storm water fees, which they have been used for several years to implement storm water management programs.
“I agree it should be countywide,” Latvala said. “But we haven’t done our job in the last 30 years. We need to do our job, cleanup and then got back to the cities.”
“We’re way behind the eight ball on this,” Commissioner John Morroni said. “This should have been done long ago.”