TREASURE ISLAND — To speed up work on future drainage improvements needed along Gulf Boulevard, city officials are considering the possibility of significantly raising stormwater fees on city utility bills.
Public Works director Jim Murphy presented a list to commissioners recently of $4.2 million in projects needed in the Sunset Beach and Sunshine Beach areas of Gulf Boulevard.
"Flooding is a chronic problem along west Gulf Boulevard," Murphy said.
"We need more money in the stormwater enterprise fund, we need to double the commitment" for the projects to get done in a timely manner.
Based on the current $300,000 city expenditure a year, it would take 14 years to complete the list, he said.
The city is working on a half-million dollar project on Sunset Beach now that will improve the water quality and drainage by installing new outfall pipes and water collection devices along Bayshore Drive from 77th Avenue N to 79th Terrace.
The project is funded in a 50/50 split by the city and the Southwest Florida Water Management District, commonly known as Swiftmud.
Another project currently up for bid is installing an outfall pipe near the 84th Avenue boat ramp.
Much of the piping is substandard along Gulf Boulevard and hasn't been improved in 50 or 60 years, Murphy said. The smaller-size pipes that often don't extend into the Gulf of Mexico get clogged with sand, causing water to back up and flood streets.
Murphy said another advantage to speeding up the work is saving money.
"By putting more money toward it, you can do it more efficiently, you are engineering a bigger area," he said.
Commissioners have asked Murphy to prioritize the projects and discuss the possibility of future funding with Swiftmud.
City Manager Reid Silverboard said he hasn't calculated how much the city would have to raise stormwater fees to pay for its share of the $4.2 million but estimated it would be at least a 25 percent increase.
Currently, single-family homes pay $7.17 a month and multifamily homes $6.48 a month in stormwater fees on their utility bills. A 25 percent increase would mean a $1.79 increase to $8.96 for single family homes and a $1.62 increase to $8.10 for multifamily.
The city this year already raised stormwater fees by 10 percent, which generated an additional $60,000 in revenue, Silverboard said.
"We were not charging enough to pay the maintenance and relatively minor improvements we needed to make to the stormwater system," he said. "We were subsidizing it from sewer and the general fund. We are trying to make that fund self-sufficient, that's why we have gradually been increasing the fee each year to make it pay for itself."
City commissioners said they would like to consider the stormwater fee increase during the summer budget workshops.
"This would be a great deal if we can get matching funds," Commissioner Alan Bildz said.
Commissioner Phil Collins questioned whether the city could raise and then later lower the fee once the improvements are made.
Though Silverboard said that is an option, he noted that along with the improvements, more upkeep will be needed and there are other areas of the city that also need drainage improvements.