Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Exclude schools from much-needed stormwater fee

The Dade City Commission is trying to rectify an old problem with a new fee — it wants to modernize the city's drainage system with a stormwater assessment.

The proposed fee, still subject to a public hearing and final vote, would total a reasonable $45 annually for a typical home (more for commercial properties) to finance up to $3.2 million worth of capital projects to alleviate problematic flooding.

Some of the worst areas include Whitehouse Avenue and 10th Street and the downtown area bordered by Church Street to Pineapple Avenue between 5th and 7th streets. Just observe the downtown business district during a rainstorm for visual evidence of needed improvements. Because downtown is built on a west to east slope, stormwater moves rapidly through the area, effectively creating fast-moving streams that are a hazard for pedestrians.

Draining water from the streets safely is a priority and Dade City is correctly following the lead of Pasco County, the city of New Port Richey and other local governments that have adopted or upgraded stormwater fees over the past several years. It's also a bargain. New Port Richey charges more than $77 for a single-family home annually, and Pasco County's residential stormwater fee is $47.

The Dade City plan, however, already hit one hiccup with a provision to charge the Pasco School District roughly $25,000 annually for its five schools within the city. As Times staff writer Jeffrey Solochek reported, such a strategy has spurred lawsuits in Pinellas, Marion and Alachua counties. The school district does not pay the stormwater fees charged in the county or in New Port Richey.

This is reminiscent of past disputes between the Pasco School District and Pasco County government that dates to the 1990s and county attempts to collect water and sewer impact fees tied to new school construction. A state Attorney General's opinion sided with the school district and, in 1998, the county eventually returned $58,000 the district had paid in protest for utility service for Chester Taylor Elementary outside Zephyrhills.

The current disagreement shouldn't go that far. Dade City should remove the school buildings from its assessment rolls. Asking one publicly funded entity to pay a fee to another is counterproductive. Taxpayers foot the bill either way.

Dade City needs the drainage upgrades. That is not in doubt. The city should just be slightly more selective in deciding who gets asked to pay the assessment.

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