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Moving forward

July 25, 2013
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Cape Coral City Council moved the next phase of the city's utility expansion project forward this week, giving property owners in the neighborhoods dubbed Southwest 6 & 7 their first look at the per-property charges to be assessed this fall.

The good news?

The very good news?

Homeowners will receive water, sewer and irrigation water services at a price that is the lowest since 2002. In terms of spendable dollars, taking inflation into account, officials say it's the lowest charge ever - and with record low interest rates for those who need to pay over time

The bad?

It's about $16,000 per standard residential building lot; more for oversized and larger parcels.

And in any place and time, $16,000 is a hit for retirees and breadwinners alike.

Southwest 6 & 7 is the area that is south of Pine Island Road, bounded by Southwest 6th Avenue, Skyline Boulevard, Gleason Parkway, Surfside Boulevard and Pine Island Road. Approximately 54 percent of the affected parcels are developed.

Those who own standard lots of 10,000 square feet, developed with a home or not, can expect to pay a little more than $10,000 for pipes, transmission lines and other infrastructure costs.

In addition, property owners will pay a capital facility expansion charge of $6,750, with a discount of 20 percent offered to those who pay in full between Aug. 22 and Oct. 31. In that case, the fee would be $5,400 for a total of $15,411.

Those who pay in full between Nov. 1 and July 31 of 2014 will pay the full price of $15,828.

Financed over 20 years, at discounted rates right around 2 percent, the number bumps to $24,414.

Yes, that hurts. And yes, most of us here also would have to scramble hard to pay.

But if there is one thing we have learned in covering the various phases of the expansion project through the years, for those affected, there never is a "right time" to incur a big bill, never a good time to add cost while waiting for the market to catch up.

Affected property owners protested during the boom years. They protested during the bad. They will continue to protest.

As has another group of Cape residents, those already on the system, as the stop-in-midstream debacle of 2008 shifted a hefty burden on to the ratepayers. They saw water and sewer bills skyrocket after council had no other way to pay for a water plant built to accommodate supposed new customers who were given a reprieve.

Council's vote Wednesday was not easy. But while we still do not agree with renaming the impact fee portion and requiring an up-front payment on undeveloped properties, we do think moving forward is the best decision for the city as a whole.

State law mandates utility installation when neighborhoods exceed certain density benchmarks. Southwest 6 & 7 falls within those parameters. It, in fact, exceeded the trip point more than five years ago when council, in the face of similar protests, put the expansion in "temporary" hiatus.

A couple of things.

For those who simply can't afford the cost, even spread out over 20 years, we urge application to the city's "hardship" program.

For council, we continue to urge it to keep a promise made when this same expansion phase divided the city. Look at how the city approaches capital projects such as utilities expansion and funds them. The assessment method seems to be the most painful. Yet with ample opportunity and a "like-minded majority" demanding change, nothing was done by those who have protested the assessments most loudly.

With Southwest 6 & 7 in the queue, the project now jumps over Pine Island Road.

If we can do better - if we, as a city, can do anything to make the process a little less painless, a little less divisive - there's never been a better time.

- Breeze editorial



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