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North 2: Litmus test

February 12, 2016
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

The next phase of the city of Cape Coral's Utility Expansion Project is expected to break ground in August.

Affecting approximately 8,800 parcels in a sprawling 5-square-mile strip roughly bordered by Pine Island Road, Old Burnt Store Road and then zig zagging up past Embers Parkway east of Chiquita Boulevard to just north of Tropicana Parkway W, across Santa Barbara Boulevard and then across Andalusia Boulevard in the area around the Bal Moral Canal to a tiny snippet across Del Prado between the Zurich and Banjo canals, the $209.89 million project is expected to be completed in 2017.

It will bring potable water, sewer and irrigation reuse water utilities to the neighborhoods, funded through low-interest DEP State Revolving Fund loans to be guaranteed by a "special assessment" to be paid by all property owners in the expansion area.

Based on the same square-footage methodology used for previous expansion areas, the assessment is estimated to be similar to that charged in Southwest 6 & 7, the last expansion phase. For an average 10,000-square-foot lot, property owners were assessed $10,007.51 for the water, sewer and irrigation infrastructure, pipes, pumping stations and the like. They also were assessed another $6,750 for a "capital facility expansion charge," a renamed impact fee for "impact" on the city-owned water and sewer plants to treat the water and sewerage coming into the system from the additional homes and businesses.

Some property owners in North 2 may also be asked to pay another $6,124 or so for a new project component as the city tests the waters for utility improvements city staff and some elected officials maintain Cape residents want: underground electrical wires, better communications infrastructure, and lighting.

Cape Coral City Council got its first look Monday at a proposal for a "voluntary assessment UEP add option" for 1,907 parcels, 767 of them improved, 1,140 still undeveloped. The area selected is west of Burnt Store Road where many of the parcels are waterfront and so more pricey than the "dry" lots that encompass much of the north Cape.

The $11.7 million proposal calls for the installation of two conduits for communications services and electric power as well as the installation of LED street lighting. It would be a lot more cost effective to install these other utility improvements at the same time the city tears up the streets for the UEP, city officials say, which is why the "add-on" option is being proposed now.

According to the city report presented to council at a workshop meeting Monday, "undergrounding" would bump property values and look a lot better to boot.

Council directed staff to begin notifying property owners in the area to garner input, with public discussions to follow.

It's an interesting proposal for a couple of reasons.

One, it's the perfect pocketbook test for those who say Cape residents want underground utilities: Are they also willing to pay for it, in this case about 36 percent more on a bill that's not small change to begin with?

Two, it's a good glimpse at what staff and our elected officials are thinking as it relates to the possible "municipalization" of electric services as the franchise agreement with LCEC comes due this year.

It surprises us not at all that the city sees assessments as one way to accomplish its desired electric-related utility improvements: While private utilities and public co-ops like LCEC must build infrastructure costs into rates, assessments are a standard funding methodology for public utilities owned by cities and counties, which then tout "low rates" and "lowest rates" to ratepayers, most of whom are also taxpayers.

The "voluntary assessment UEP add option" discussion is worth following, not only for the 1,900 or so property owners who may be affected in North 2 but for anyone who owns property in Cape Coral.

Consider it a litmus test for not only "undergrounding" and LED lighting but for the possible city purchase of LCEC assets within the Cape en route to the municipality becoming its own electric utility with these types of upgrades in mind.

If these things matter to you, the time to get involved is now.

- Breeze editorial



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