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East County Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019 12 months ago

Manatee County stormwater fee proposal advances

Some local residents feel they will be double billed for stormwater services.
by: Pam Eubanks Senior Editor

Manatee County’s efforts to create a designated fee to pay for upgrades to its stormwater systems and services might be a tough sell in the greater Lakewood Ranch area, where many residents pay community development district or homeowners association fees for upkeep of their neighborhood stormwater systems.

The fee, proposed to take effect in 2021 if county commissioners approve it, would be paid on property tax bills and would pay for

enhanced levels of service for stormwater-related services, such as street sweeping; maintenance of county-maintained canals, ponds and ditches; replacement of pipes and lining; and outfall cleaning.

Currently, funding for Manatee County’s stormwater program ($13.67 million) comes from four sources: the solid waste fund ($9.6 million), the gas tax fund ($3 million), phosphate mining fees ($594,662) and the general fund property taxes ($471,143). This would not change.

However, an aging stormwater system has the county searching for ways to keep the system upgraded and functioning properly. The county estimates that will cost an additional $7.4 million.

With the help of a consultant, county staff recommends two possible fees based on square footage for single-family homes. For example, the first would cost homeowners $58.16 per year for those who own a 2,463- to 4,072-square-foot home. Under the second scenario, for example, those who own a 2,463- to 4,072-square-foot home would pay $88.10 per year.

The second option would raise an additional $5.1 million for the county, so it could plan “betterment” projects to enhance the system. 

Manatee County Public Works officials recommend the second option, so betterment projects can be completed.

In both options, nonresidential units would be billed on actual impervious area.

As Manatee County plans to launch a 60-day public awareness campaign on the fee later this month, Manatee County Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said her constituents in the greater Lakewood Ranch area feel double taxed under the proposal.

“I know we need [the fee], but that’s what I’m hearing from my residents,” Baugh said. “It’s got to be fair to everybody.”

She said the county either needs to consider a reduced rate for communities that maintain their own stormwater systems or make it clear as to why their costs should be the same.

Manatee County attorney Bill Clague said the county’s staff does not feel it is duplicating services provided by neighborhoods.

Tom Gerstenberger, the county stormwater division manager, said conversion of land from agriculture to new homes is what creates the need for stormwater. He said those community-specific systems still drain into the county’s stormwater systems.

Manatee County Public Works Director Chad Butzow said new developments are required to maintain their stormwater systems.

“You’re doing the standard,” he said. “Do you get credit for something you’re just supposed to do?”

However, some area homeowners disagree.

A letter submitted to commissioners from the Rosedale Master Homeowner’s Association’s Management Committee said the county should further evaluate the assessment methodologies and alternatives. Rosedale’s association pays for the community’s roadways, road drains, pipes, 32 retention ponds, water control structures, 25 wetlands and wetland buffers.

“While we are not opposed in any way to paying for infrastructure required to manage stormwater after it leaves the Rosedale community, it should be a fair assessment based on what services the county provides versus those already provided by the HOA,” the letter from the association states. “There needs to be more balance to this proposed assessment rather than just using square footage of a home with no other considerations.”

Ken Bumgarner, chairman of the Waterlefe Community Development District, said he believes it is important the county addresses its stormwater needs. However, he also feels the proposed rate structure double-bills residents, such as those in Waterlefe Golf and River Club, who already pay for maintaining stormwater systems within the community.

“It’s not to say the CDDs or HOAs should not pay anything,” Bumgarner said, noting such entities should pay a reduced rate. “When the water goes away from our community, it has to go through county pipes. We do pay something [now]. We pay a lot of money toward maintaining our ponds and canals.”

Bumgarner said the Waterlefe representatives will likely attend a future town hall meeting in Lakewood Ranch — though no date has been set — about the fee and might also talk with Lakewood Ranch community development districts about the issue and possible steps to be taken.

Manatee County commissioners at their Sept. 24 meeting offered mixed feedback about whether a reduced rate should be considered. Some said it made sense to consider reductions for duplicated services; others said not everything is “fair,” and everyone should pay the same.

Commissioners, however, agreed using the property tax bill was the preferred method for collecting the fee, compared with using homeowners’ utility bills. They also want to enhance the level of service, so streets are swept more often, and canals, drains and ditches are cleared more frequently.

Butzow said doing so will improve service, mitigate some flooding related to blockages and help ensure the county’s stormwater systems are working as efficiently as possible when heavy rains occur.

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