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Safety Harbor sets tentative annual rate for street light fee

SAFETY HARBOR — City commissioners have tentatively set the rate for a new street light fee, which most property owners will pay starting in January if it gets final approval.

The fee would assess $50.97 annually on homes that benefit from public street lights. Businesses and multifamily structures would pay proportionate to their sizes. Private communities that maintain their own street lights or unincorporated enclaves would not have to pay the fee.

At $50.97, homeowners should see a $4.25 monthly charge on their utility bills. But this first year, that monthly rate would be a little higher because of the time it took to study the new tax.

The fiscal year started Oct. 1, but the city wasn't ready to implement the fee. It was still working with a contractor to determine the rates and collection process. So starting in January, homeowners would be charged about $5.66 a month until the fiscal year ends Sept. 30, 2013.

Commissioners wanted to recover those three months of costs, which total about $60,000, to avoid spending reserve funds.

Government buildings, including city ones, would be exempt from the fee for legal reasons. That's about $10,000 worth of costs that the city would have to cover through other funds. The city cannot charge residents more to try to make up for that amount.

Like a millage rate or stormwater fee, the city can reconsider the amount of the street light fee annually. The city needs to generate enough money to cover operating costs and build up a small reserve.

The city leases its light poles from Progress Energy and pays about $300,000 a year to keep them on. Decades ago, the city set up a special street light fund paid into by developers. But over the years, as construction dwindled, so did the fund's income.

With the street light fund projected to soon run out of money, the commission faced a decision this year during its budget debates on how to manage street light expenses. Instead of drawing more from reserves or hiking the property tax millage rate, commissioners voted 4-1 for the street light fee.

The only holdout, Commissioner Nancy Besore, called the fee both a financial burden on residents and a regressive tax, because the flat rate doesn't tax people proportionately to their property values. At Monday's meeting, she reiterated her stance.

"I'm constantly sad that we're doing this," Besore said.

The street light fee must pass two votes at upcoming Dec. 3 and Dec. 17 public hearings.

Reach Stephanie Wang at (727) 445-4155 or swang@tampabay.com.

Safety Harbor sets tentative annual rate for street light fee 11/21/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 21, 2012 6:55pm]
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