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Better storm drainage coming _ for a price

City officials on Tuesday released a five-year plan for making major improvements to Tampa's stormwater system.

But residents will have to pay for the upgrades.

Public works administrator Steve Daignault proposes tripling Tampa's stormwater fee from about $12 a year to $36. The actual amount paid by property owners would vary based on the amount of impervious surface on a parcel.

"It's $3 a month," Mayor Pam Iorio said. "We were very, very careful to try to be conservative with a fee increase."

Tampa's stormwater tax, now in its second year, is one of the lowest in the state and will remain that way even with the increase.

Residents pay $24 a year in Lakeland, $48 in Miami, $72 in St. Petersburg, $75 in Tallahassee, $82.56 in Orlando and $103.80 in Clearwater.

Commercial properties also pay a stormwater fee. Under the proposed plan, the typical convenience store would see a bump from $54.36 a year to $163.14, and the average grocery store fee would jump from $870 annually to $2,610.27.

The increase would boost money collected by the city from $2-million a year to $6-million. The extra cash would free up utility tax money previously used for operations and maintenance to fund a $20-million bond. The bond money, and additional utility and property tax funds, would pay for a $60-million, five-year capital improvement program that includes 34 of 95 essential stormwater projects, Daignault said.

The proposed capital improvement plan includes $550,000 to fix drainage problems on Paxton Avenue in the Interbay area, $2.2-million to complete a stormwater project at West Tampa Elementary School, and $20-million to keep rainwater from swamping Dale Mabry Highway between Neptune Street and Henderson Boulevard.

The proposed projects cover nearly all of Tampa, except New Tampa, where most of the construction is new and was built with stormwater in mind, Daignault said.

He blames Tampa's persistent flooding problems on a 1920s-era stormwater system that is incapable of handling major rains on flat land that has been paved over with roads, homes, driveways and parking lots.

"Stormwater has been a historic problem in the city of Tampa, and there's never been a comprehensive plan to deal with it," Iorio said.

Daignault will review the proposal for the City Council at its regular meeting Jan. 20. Public hearings on the fee increase would begin in July. If it is approved, it will take effect in October.