Commissioner Shelli Freeland Eddie asks for a future discussion about modifying homeowners’ rates
If the City of Sarasota’s water and sewer impact fees had been in effect, the city would have received about $485,000 for four new condominium projects under construction in downtown Sarasota, city Utilities Director Mitt Tidwell told the City Commission last week.
Four-and-a-half years after those fees were suspected — in September 2011 — the City Commission voted unanimously on Sept. 16 to reinstate them. City Manager Tom Barwin pointed out that the fees will apply to any new project that receives a permit to proceed on or after April 4.
Just before the vote, Commissioner Shelli Freeland Eddie told her colleagues and staff that, because residential rates have continued to rise while the fees have been suspended, she would like to have a future discussion about modifying homeowners’ and business owners’ rates.
During his brief presentation to the board, Tidwell explained, “We are not recommending any change in the fee structure at this time.” An analysis will be undertaken this summer, he said. If it appears any modification should be made to the figures, Tidwell added, he will report that information to the board.
He then referenced the amount of money the city would have received from the Vue Sarasota Bay at the intersection of U.S. 41 and Gulfstream Avenue; Sansara at 300 S. Pineapple Ave.; One88 on Golden Gate Point; and One Palm at 201 S. Palm Ave. “So that’s the magnitude of the fees that we would have seen from recent development,” he said.
The revenue the fees generate can be used only for growth-related projects and for debt service for growth-related initiatives, Tidwell pointed out.
However, he continued, House Bill 735, which was introduced in the current session of the Florida Legislature, would authorize the use of impact fees “to improve, alter, or expand existing capital facilities,” as noted on the Legislature’s website. A companion Senate bill has been filed, Tidwell noted.
“That’s huge, right?” Vice Mayor Suzanne Atwell responded.
“We’ll continue to track it and see where it goes,” Tidwell said of the House bill.
A Sarasota News Leader check of the status on Feb. 22 found it has seen no committee action since it was introduced in a committee on Jan. 12. However, the Senate version, S 0660, had a first reading in committee on Feb. 10. The Legislature is due to adjourn on March 11.
Only one speaker appeared before the commission prior to the vote. Dan Lobeck, president of Control Growth Now, told the board, “I’m reluctant to say anything ’cause I don’t want to jinx this,” he said, drawing chuckles. “I appreciate your moving forward with this.”
In 2011, he pointed out, the City Commission suspended the fees “to try to stimulate construction. I don’t think there’s any doubt that construction has rebounded … It’s booming in the city of Sarasota and elsewhere.”
Lobeck also noted that residents and businesses did not get a break while developers did. The city “year after year after year has been raising rates [those customers pay],” he added. At first, the annual hikes were 4 percent, he said, but the most recent one was 6 percent.
“It’s shameful it’s been allowed to go on as long as it has,” he added of that situation. Utility bills hurt the poor the most, Lobeck told the commissioners, because those people cannot make a decision to just go without water and sewer service for a month if they are struggling to make ends meet. “It is extremely regressive to be putting all of the cost of your utility system on the backs of the rate-paying public.”
With no other speakers present, Mayor Willie Shaw closed the public hearing. Commissioner Susan Chapman made the motion to reinstate the fees, and Freeland Eddie seconded it.
“I am so supportive of this at this point,” Atwell said.
Freeland Eddie then told her colleagues she hoped they would have a future discussion about reducing water and sewer fees for residents and businesses.
The motion passed unanimously.