BELLEAIR BEACH — Residents will be assessed a fee of $15 each month per home that will help pay the cost of projects to control flooding, which has been a major problem in this waterfront city for years.
The City Council unanimously approved the stormwater fee at its June 1 meeting. This was the first reading of an ordinance that will need final approval at the June 29 council meeting before it can take effect. Assuming final approval, the fee charges would appear on residents’ water bill beginning this fall.
“We have major stormwater projects coming up and this will help pay for them,” City Manager Rives said. Money collected from the fee can only be used for stormwater management, said Chris Roe, a consultant who presented a stormwater utility study at the meeting.
The fee could vary per year, but is only allowed to increase a small amount based on state guidelines, which would be about 3 or 4% each year if needed, Roe said. Rives said the fee could actually come down long-term or be eliminated if other revenue sources for the city come up as expected.
The need for stormwater/road projects to control flooding and concerns over their costs has been an ongoing issue in the city.
A stormwater fee was discussed at a council meeting in September. At that time, Commissioner Jody Shirley said the city “is way outspending” previous estimates of stormwater project costs. “We have to figure a way to pay for it. The fee will help offset the costs,” Shirley said then.
Stormwater projects costing nearly $4 million have been completed on First through Sixth streets and Harbor Drive, and are in the design stage on Seventh and Eighth streets.
Mayor Joseph Manzo said in September that a reserve fund being used to pay for the projects “will only last another two to three years at this rate.”
There is a “huge budget gap” in funding the stormwater projects, Manzo said. “We’re borrowing money from the piggy bank and we’re not repaying that.”
Council members and residents who spoke on the subject at the June 1 meeting supported the fee.
“I think this is a great bounce to the budget to cover the needed stormwater repairs,” said Ron Ciganek, who serves on the Financial Advisory Committee.
Another member of the committee, John Handzuk, also recommended going forward with the fee.
Council member Dave Gattis said, “There’s no question that we do have a problem with stormwater. It’s something we’ve been discussing for a long time, and this will definitely help.”
Manzo told the commission that despite his initial reservations, he believes “this is something we need. The only way we are going to get this problem under control is via this method.”
Council voted 7-0 in favor of the stormwater utility fee. The city plans to send out postcards to residents encouraging them to attend the council meeting on June 29 if they want speak on the topic when it comes up for a second and final approval.
Property values up
The city’s taxable property values have increased about 5% over the past year, from $566 million to $594 million, Rives said. The data came from the Pinellas County Tax Appraiser’s Office. That’s good news for residents, as their homes should be worth more, and for the city which will receive increased tax revenue.