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Tampa council delays votes on stormwater fee increases

TAMPA — After 90 minutes of impassioned pleas on both sides of the question, the City Council paused Thursday to get more information before voting whether to raise stormwater fees.

Most of the three dozen speakers agreed Tampa has chronic problems with flooding, but differed on whether and how to address them.

"I thought I would never say this, but here it goes: City Council, please raise my taxes," said Marlin Anderson, president of the Sunset Park Area Homeowners Association. "Please raise my taxes to pay for this stormwater improvement that is so desperately needed."

"For the people who say, 'My street doesn't flood; I shouldn't pay for it,' we're a community," said Clay Walkup, whose home is in South Tampa's Bon Air neighborhood. "It's a citywide problem. We all need to take care of it. My community and my neighborhood have pretty low crime, but I still pay for police."

Other property owners contended the new and increased fees would create an unfair, inequitable and maybe legally indefensible burden.

"It's not what your doing; it's the way you're going about it that's problematic," said attorney Gina Grimes, who represents several car dealerships . One of her clients would see an assessment rise from $6,500 to $15,000 per year. And one dealership's assessment for new stormwater projects would be $18,000 a year — as much as 184 medium-sized houses.

"I think there's a definite need," Ybor City businessman Joseph Capitano Sr. said. "I don't think it's fair the way it's been done and I think we need to ask you people to slow this thing down."

In response, the council postponed two different decisions to two different dates.

On Sept. 3, it will consider whether to increase the city's existing "service assessment" for stormwater from $36 to $82 a year for the owner of a medium-sized home.

That increase attracted less criticism Thursday. With the additional money, city officials say they could sweep streets, clean out ditches and unclog the outfalls from storm sewers into Tampa Bay more often.

On Oct. 1, the council will consider a second, more contentious proposal: To create a second stormwater "improvement assessment" to pay for $251 million in new projects designed to increase the capacity of the city's drainage network.

The improvement fee, if created, would eventually rise to $98 a year for a medium-sized house but would not go into effect until the city's 2017 budget year. On that schedule, council members said they would have time to get more information and discuss the many questions property owners brought up, including:

• Could the city ramp the new fee up over a longer time, such as nine or 10 years, instead of the proposed seven?

• Could churches and nonprofit organizations get some special consideration?

• Can officials provide a detailed list of projects the improvement assessments would pay for?

• Has the city used the best method to calculate how much property owners should pay?

Since 2003, the city has charged the service assessment — mainly for operations and maintenance, with a few small expansion projects here and there — based on the amount of paved surface on a property. The bigger the building, and the larger the decks, porches and pools, the higher the fee.

"After hearing from some of the public speakers this morning, they raised questions that I had not thought of," council Chairman Frank Reddick said.

Contact Richard Danielson at rdanielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times

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