City leaders consider stormwater fee increases

City leaders consider stormwater fee increases
Streets in Holmes Beach often flood in heavy rains. - Cindy Lane | Sun

HOLMES BEACH – With costs for stormwater improvements throughout the city ongoing and increasing, City Engineer Lynn Burnett proposed to commissioners that they consider an increase in stormwater utility fees.

Stormwater utility fees are paid by property owners based on the size of their property. Currently, a fee of $1.68 is charged per 100 square feet of property.

Burnett said city leaders had planned a gradual increase over several years of 25% per year. She said that option is still on the table with fees increasing from $1.68 to $2.10 per 100 square feet of property in 2020.

A second option is to raise rates in 2020 to the planned five-year amount of $4.10 per 100 square feet. The third option is to increase to the final planned amount of $4.40 per 100 square feet of property in 2020 and then hold the rate at that amount for as long as possible.

The third option would represent a nearly 262% increase in stormwater utility fees for property owners, but Burnett said that either the second or third option would help the city close the gap between the cost of resiliency and stormwater improvements and the funding currently planned to be received for those projects.

At the planned 25% increase to $2.10, she said the city would be carrying a deficit over the next several years until fees increased to the point where all of the costs would be covered. If city leaders opt for the third option, an increase to $4.40, she said the deficit would end in the coming fiscal year.

If city leaders agree to an increase, the funds would not be collected until the beginning of 2021. Burnett said stormwater fees are collected in arrears so a change taking effect for the new fiscal year wouldn’t appear on property owners’ trim notices until fall 2020 and would not be due until property taxes are paid in late 2020 and distributed to municipalities in early 2021.

With new stormwater infiltration trenches needed, outflow pipes underneath city streets failing and seawalls buckling that are beyond their serviceable years, Burnett said the city needs protection to lessen flooding from storms, rising sea levels and high tide events such as king tides.

She said the city has numerous projects that need completing now, not down the road when future funds become available. Once commissioners agree on a number for the stormwater utility fee increase, she said she could come back with a vulnerability assessment and a plan of attack to begin construction on the highest priority areas.

Commissioner Jim Kihm said he would like to see more information from Burnett with details of what projects need to be completed when before he commits to a fee increase. He said he also wants to determine what effect an increase will have on Holmes Beach property owners before making a decision.

Commissioner Rick Hurst added that he wants to see what the total expenses are that the city is looking at before funds are committed to the projects.

“I just can’t slam the residents with that kind of increase,” Commissioner Carol Soustek said, of taking the maximum increase to $4.40. “I just can’t do it.”

Mayor Judy Titsworth said the fees charged to property owners are based on a need, and she wants to see what need Burnett is planning for. If there is a shortfall, she said she doesn’t see the city going into debt and then having to charge property owners for the finance fees incurred on a loan. She said she’d like to see what projects can be covered by the $4.10 fee and which additional projects could be covered by the increase to a $4.40 fee. Commissioner Kim Rash agreed, saying that he wants to see an expense versus fee amount comparison report.

Burnett agreed to come back before commissioners at a planned Oct. 22 meeting with further details.

Related coverage

HBPD celebrates its own

Four qualify in Holmes Beach

Holmes Beach holds off on emergency declaration