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Time to weigh in

January 13, 2017
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

More than 1,800 property owners in northwest Cape Coral have received ballots from the city asking whether they would like the area's overhead power lines buried in conjunction with the extension of water and sewer lines to the neighborhood.

The canalfront community that is a small part of the "North 2" Utility Expansion Project is being asked whether its home and lot owners are willing to add an additional $5,700 - $7,600 per parcel to the estimated $19,000 they will pay for water and sewer, including impact fees and plumber's connection charges.

If paid over 15 years, the payment plan option being proposed would mean a monthly cost of $54 to $70 more, or about $650 to $850 annually added to the site's property tax bill for the undergrounding component alone.

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Of the 1,820 properties west of Burnt Store Road and Ceitus Parkway, including the city-owned Seven Islands, about 40 percent have homes. The remaining 60 percent are undeveloped lots, which city officials said are selling for $200,000-$300,000 -much higher than the bulk of the "dry" lots that encompass much of the north Cape.

In terms of the assessment, the 38 government-owned parcels would be unaffected by the $14 million project proposed to add two conduits for communications service and electrical lines, as well as LED lighting.

It's an interesting proposal and the perfect pocketbook test for those who say Cape residents want underground utilities. The question is, 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?

A couple of things.

For those who have received a ballot, we urge you to weigh in for or against. Although the "vote" is non-binding, the received ballot tally will be reported to council.

"If a majority of the ballots received indicate a desire to move forward (50% plus 1), City Council will decide whether or not to proceed with the final design of the project," the Jan. 3 cover letter sent to property owners states.

If the majority vote is "for," council will consider scheduling public meetings to move forward with project design, followed by public hearings to approve the undergrounding assessment.

Read the cover letter, which contains a full page of Q&A explaining the proposal, carefully. Then mail the ballot back before the Jan. 31 deadline, making sure you note the STRAP, the property owner's name and site address.

If you do not live in the target area, you still may be affected: This is not just a neighborhood-specific issue.

To help mitigate costs to the affected property owners -those who want underground lines and are willing to kick in to pay for them - the rest of us may be asked to subsidize the neighborhood improvement.

In addition to the assessment, city staff has developed a "'synthetic' tax increment model - also known as a 'TIF.'"

TIF financing, which already is used to fund projects in the South Cape Community Redevelopment Agency district, would establish a tax base for the undergrounding neighborhood. The city then would use any increased revenue from improved property values to offset the cost of the undergrounding initiative.

Those "extra" tax dollars would ordinarily go into the city's General Fund, to which all taxpayers pay. Or they would be part of any reduction in the property tax rate should Council either look at a millage "rollback" or an actual tax cut.

In this case nearly $5 million, or more than a third of the cost of the project.

"City staff estimates about $4.8 million in ad valorem taxes could be generated for the project over 15 years, or about 35 percent of the cost," the city cover letter states.

So you may want to follow this one, no matter where you live, starting in February when Council is to consider what residents want in regards to undergrounding.

- Breeze editorial



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