Saturday, July 21, 2018
Politics

Carlton: In the swirl of a storm, City Council votes for sanity

As Tampa officials were again deliberating over what to do about the city's storm-flooded streets, you couldn't help but notice that one concerned citizen stepped up to speak at this week's City Council meeting in a rain-spattered yellow slicker.

Or that one council member declined to show up for the controversial vote on whether to assess a new stormwater fee because of the wicked weather that was yet again flooding city streets even as they spoke.

Maybe it took the object lesson of a sideswipe from Hurricane Hermine on that very night, but the Tampa City Council at last managed to approve a new yearly fee to pay for better drainage in a town that badly needs it.

Anyone who has tried to get across the southern end of town after a good summer soaking and found themselves car-door deep in flooding can certainly attest to that. As City Council member Harry Cohen, a prime proponent, put it: "We have to address it."

Okay, so fees are not fun. Citizens already nickel and dimed to death do not like them, especially if they don't see the need or feel the pain in their own neighborhoods. Politicians don't like backing them. And this plan to finance $251 million in drainage improvements well into the future won't fix all our woes. It's short of perfect.

It's also a practical necessity in a town where pipes, streets and drains are more than a century old.

It's a start.

The fee targets developed property, including homes and businesses. Starting next year, a resident with a medium-sized house will pay a new $45 fee, rising to $89.55 over six years. Bigger houses pony up more, smaller ones less.

Though previous efforts to assess such a fee failed, this passed on a 4-2 vote. (In another weather-related note, council member Yvonne Yolie Capin did not attend, thinking it irresponsible to hold the nighttime hearing with an about-to-be hurricane out there.)

But dozens of citizens did show up, many seeing the point, others against getting, pardon the expression, soaked.

All along, some have not liked the idea of paying for flood-prone South Tampa when they do not live there. You had this image of genteel South-of-Kennedians peeved at having to traverse Bayshore Boulevard puddles on the way to brunch at the yacht club.

In truth, problems are particularly serious in the city's southern peninsula, but the new fee also addresses issues in other parts of town.

A flaw, in my view: New Tampa, MacDill Air Force Base and Harbour Island are exempt because they have drainage systems that don't flow to city storm sewers. Which sounds like saying if you don't have kids, you shouldn't pay school-related taxes.

Aren't some sacrifices for the greater good?

Voting no were Frank Reddick, worried about how the fee could hit the less affluent, and council penny pincher Charlie Miranda.

But Tampa isn't getting any younger. Storms like the one we just weathered won't stop blowing in. And the vote for a new stormwater fee beats just whistling into a hurricane-force wind.

Contact Sue Carlton at [email protected]

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