TAMPA — The Hillsborough Commission, after approving higher utility and trash rates earlier this year, decided Wednesday a $5-per-home increase in the stormwater fee was too much for the public to swallow.
On a 4-3 vote, the commission agreed to kill the fee increase for the coming year and allocate federal COVID-19 relief dollars to cover the $2.4 million the stormwater assessment increase would have generated.
The assessment raises $31.3 million a year and the county uses that money, plus $20 million from its general revenue budget, to replace pipes, clean ditches, repair culverts and make other improvements to curb potential flooding.
“We know that is not enough,” County Administrator Bonnie Wise said about the stormwater budget.
The owner of a medium-sized home in the county now pays a $76.43 assessment. In 2019, the commission authorized an increase to $96.62 to be spread over five years, but it then waived the planned increase last year because of the pandemic. Wednesday, after a scheduled public hearing, the commission was to consider the first-year increase of $5.07 per home.
No one spoke at the public hearing and the county said it received no written objections to the proposed increase. The county also has a new hardship program to assist residents who cannot afford the full storm water assessment.
But Commissioner Gwen Myers said residents deserved a pass in light of previously approved fee increases that go into effect next month.
“I’d like to see us give our constituents a financial break,” said Myers.
Last month, the commission approved increasing two annual solid waste and disposal fees by $63.47. It is a nearly 22 percent increase over the current fees of just less than $290.
In April, the commission authorized a 4 percent annual increase in water rates over each of the next four years. Customers using 6,000 gallons of water monthly would see their bills increase by $4.10 to to $89.14 beginning Oct. 1.
Myers proposal, allocating $2.4 million from the $285.9 million the county is getting from the federal American Rescue Plan Act, drew support from Commissioners Harry Cohen, Stacy White and Ken Hagan.
“The reason I think this is something we should do is because its de minimis and because it is symbolic of the fact that we recognize people are struggling,” said Cohen..
Commission Chairwoman Pat Kemp and Commissioner Mariella Smith argued the county had fallen behind on its infrastructure needs because of past reticence to increase fees sufficiently.
Wise also told the commission the federal aid would be insufficient to fill all the county’s needs.
“There’s not enough money. We could use all of the money for storm water. We could use all the money for resurfacing. We could use all the money for fire (department),” she said.
Using the federal dollars this year means the county property owners will be looking at a $10-per-home increase next year if the commission sticks to its original storm water assessment schedule approved in 2019.