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Stormwater fee set at $19.98-per-month average

Bay Beach Lane residents avoid the charge

February 3, 2016
By John Morton ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Unless you live on Bay Beach Lane, starting March 1 your monthly water bill will include a stormwater utility fee.

On Monday, the Fort Myers Beach Town Council approved by a 3-2 vote an average fee of $19.98 per resident per month, based upon Estero Island's measured average of 1,414 square feet of impervious (non-absorbent) surface per resident or business. If you have more square feet than that, you pay more. If less, you pay less.

The town's website will be adjusted to show how much each address will be billed. The fee will be revisited no later than Sept. 1, and could be adjusted then, as the town's budgeting process kicks in. By then, a three-month $50,000 facilities study will have been conducted to determine what type of work needs to be done to move the project along.

As for the 1,235 Bay Beach Lane residents, because their development was established by state law to feature a self-containing stormwater system, it is off the hook for the service fee.

"We don't add a drop of water to the town's streets," said Michael Ciccarone, an attorney representing the Estero Bay Improvement Association (EBIA), which represents Bay Beach Lane's 16 condo associations. "We'll take care of our own stormwater, thank you."

About 100 residents of Bay Beach Lane attended the meeting in support, many sitting on the floor due to a lack of seating.

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Whether they will be allowed to bypass an administrative fee, which town officials estimate as a modest $1.68 per month per resident, will likely be determined Feb. 16 when the council considers a resolution brought forth by the association. It asks that it be removed from the town's "benefit area" altogether.

"It would add insult to injury," said Ciccarone in regard to an administrative fee.

Vice-mayor Dan Andre felt the EBIA at least pay an administrative fee, noting the residents use other roads within the town.

"I pay for the school but don't have any children in it," he said in an analogy.

There was even talk during the meeting as to whether the association's stormwater system, which sits within the former Fort Myers Beach Golf Club whose land was recently purchased by the EBIA for $2.4 million, could assist the town in handling some of the town's storm water. But the council rejected the idea.

The new fee puts into action a stormwater ordinance set in place in September. Only a small portion of the island's side streets have received stormwater installation a process that has come to a stop because the project is $2 million in debt, its funding being not part of the budget.

Now, the fee allows for the beginning of paying off that debt, coverage of the cost of the study and some maintenance of existing culverts, ditches, drains and swales for what Mayor Anita Cereceda called "immediate relief" for a community socked hard recently by street flooding.

The council had considered the town-staff recommendation of $26.50 per month as the average, with council members Alan Mandel and Rexann Hosafros favoring that amount and thus voting against the motion.

"The difference is equal to the price of just one less beer per month," Mandel said when comparing the rates.

Scott Baker, the director of public works, said the lower fee equals about $500,000 a year, and that means "very little maintenance will take place," he said.

Added Hosafros, "This does nothing for our neighbors who are crying out."

Not only will the town have a better idea of what it needs a few months out, but it will know after the March 15 election whether or not residents approve a charter referendum that allows the town to borrow money beyond three years.

"Imagine mortgaging your house every three years," Maureen Rischitelli, the town's director of administrative services, said.

As for seeking state grants, any debt will prove a red flag for the state's revolving loan fund, town officials said, and will likely result in rejection.

"That's why we have to pay off that debt," Baker said, noting maintenance would unfortunately have to be secondary with the lower monthly fee.

Either way, no new installation of the stormwater system will take place until April of 2017, town officials said.

Resident Mike Baker said a scaled-back system would be sufficient, and if the town installed a system in every street estimated at around $34 million he would file a lawsuit on behalf of a group of residents, noting an attorney is already on board.

Finally, several representatives of other condos told the council how they too had self-contained stormwater systems, and should thus also be exempt like the EBIA, but the town rejected that, noting that only the EBIA was properly licensed and authorized as such.



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