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Too many unknowns

April 6, 2013
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Cape Coral City Council on Monday will consider a proposal to require the installation of fire suppression systems - sprinklers - in new single family homes and duplexes built in the city.

Proponents of the mandate say it's a safety issue and who can argue with that?

No one, perhaps.

But the three-ordinance package wrapped together and stickered with a public safety smiley face is coming C.O.D.

And that cost is not negligible.

Not in terms of hard numbers.

Not in terms of fiscal impact.

Not in terms of the unknowns that could affect every single utility ratepayer in the city of Cape Coral.

First, while the city estimates installation costs at less than $2 a square foot, an analysis of actual installation and related costs puts the number much higher.

The National Association of Home Builders polled members who had installed a minimum of 1,000 systems to determine the total price tag, including costs necessitated by related requirements.

The association puts the average total cost at somewhere between $5,000 and $10,000 per home. Industry leaders here say the tab for the unfunded mandate will likely come in at the high end of that "average."

For those who want the less-obtrusive flush-mount or decorative mount sprinkler heads in their ceilings and walls the cost can go much higher.

In looking at fiscal impact, the Cape's primary economic driver - that's construction - would take another hit.

As would its skilled workers hoping to stay employed.

Already dealing with the challenge of being non-competitive with re-sale properties due to the housing market collapse and foreclosure rates, builders are now looking at a $10,000-plus add-on for a product they already offer to those who want it - and are willing to bear the cost.

That is key here: Those who want sprinklers installed in their new home can buy one.

It's as simple as that - except now the city is proposing to close the deal with money they would pluck from the pockets of prospective homebuyers considering the Cape.

The unknowns?

The ordinances propose to waive the additional impact and base utility fees charged for the larger water lines and meters required for suppression system operation - costs that have the potential to be passed on to other ratepayers. The required cost-benefit analysis has not yet been done to determine exactly how that will affect ratepayers citywide.

That's a pretty significant question mark.

We urge council to vote no on an ordinance package that, upon reconsideration, has lost even the support of its primary co-sponsor, Councilmember Lenny Nesta, a career firefighter.

While as a public safety professional he still firmly believes in the value of residential sprinkler systems, unexpected costs - including the need for a $25,000 study to address potential impacts on the utility rate structure as a whole- have caused him to back off a mandate with a hefty price tag and too many unknowns.

"It's not the time for additional expense for the city and residents," he said.

Well put.

It's also not time to implement regulations with so many questions on the table.

Vote no.

It won't prohibit a single person from installing their system of choice.

- Breeze editorial



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