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Safety Harbor considers higher fees to cover operation of stormwater system

Water flowing after the heavy downpours during Tropical Storm Debby this summer washed out retention walls and brought down fencing in back yards along Bishop Creek in Safety Harbor.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Water flowing after the heavy downpours during Tropical Storm Debby this summer washed out retention walls and brought down fencing in back yards along Bishop Creek in Safety Harbor.

SAFETY HARBOR — Forget the long list of millions of dollars in fixes needed for stormwater problems throughout Safety Harbor.

Forget that this summer's heavy rains, including Tropical Storm Debby, added even more issues.

The city's stormwater revenues weren't even covering operating expenses for the system, City Manager Matt Spoor said.

To aggressively address the city's dwindling stormwater fund, city commissioners have proposed increasing fees for the upcoming fiscal year. The monthly stormwater rate proposed — $7.25 per household — would be a jump from the current $5 rate.

"I'd rather just bite the bullet and do what we gotta do to get where we want to be," said Vice Mayor Joe Ayoub, who dismissed options of raising the rate by smaller increments.

If approved, the higher rate could net almost $1 million for the stormwater fund, officials said. Though it wouldn't amount to enough for all the projects on the city's list, the money could go toward fixing eroding drainage ditches, blocked retention ponds and failing pipelines.

Many of the projects involve improvements on private properties. City commissioners fretted over imposing citywide costs for work that largely benefits individual homeowners, especially since Safety Harbor residents also face the possibility of an increased property tax rate in 2013.

"I just wonder," said City Commissioner Nina Bandoni, "how the entire city would feel about having their rates raised considerably to cover things that are being done on people's private property."

She suggested seeking solutions where the city could chip in but not absorb the entire cost.

"I have a feeling that our residents would want us to help if we altered this creek or we altered a situation," countered City Commissioner Nancy Besore, referring to previous improvements the city has made to some stormwater systems.

Many drainage systems, such as the city's several creeks, fall within private property lines. The Southwest Florida Water Management District has jurisdiction over the water that flows through it. The city of Safety Harbor can do construction or maintenance work but has no obligation unless it installs infrastructure.

That's central to the issues arising with residences around Bishop Creek, which flooded during Tropical Storm Debby. Residents who live along the 2-mile creek have clamored for more city assistance for yards crumbling into the waterway — not all a result of the storm.

"It is everybody's water that is coming in my backyard," said Bishop Creek resident Leslie Grace.

The City Commission is scheduled Monday to further discuss Bishop Creek repairs and hold its first public hearing on the increased stormwater rate.

In the next couple of months, commissioners are also expected to consider a stormwater policy to outline responsibilities and best maintenance practices as a supplement to the city code.

Stephanie Wang can be reached at (727) 445-4155 or swang@tampabay.com. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

Safety Harbor considers higher fees to cover operation of stormwater system 08/17/12 [Last modified: Friday, August 17, 2012 8:57pm]
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