Cape Coral voters swept three new council members into office Tuesday night, retaining one incumbent.
We welcome John Carioscia, Lenny Nesta and Rana Erbrick to the board, and we welcome back Derrick Donnell. They face a number of tough issues and, as Monday's agenda illustrates, those who are new will be offered virtually no honeymoon period, no opportunity for a learning curve.
That's OK. Some of the knottier issues are not as hard as they first appear. Case in point - whether to change the utility expansion impact fee trigger and make those fees due now on lots in the so-called "infill areas" of the city.
If approved, the owners of an estimated 16,000 undeveloped properties in areas where utilities are available - and where these property owners have already been assessed five-figure fees to pay for pipes in the ground - will be forced to pay another assessment.
They were told previously these fees would not be levied unless and until they built and so "impacted" the system by connecting to it.
What the city proposes to do is change the nature - and the name - of the second assessment. Development of the property would no longer be the trigger. Instead, these lot and parcel owners would not pay an impact fee when a home or other structure is built at all. They would, instead, be assessed a "capacity reservation fee" following final approval and implementation of the new fee structure.
As currently approximated, the new assessment would equate to $5,136 per lot in District 1, and $6,750 per lot in District 2.
Property owners would have the option of paying all at once or over 20 years in annual increments added to the tax bills of affected properties.
We remain opposed to the rose-by-any-other name levy on those who will receive no benefit for their buck, and we urge quick rejection by council Monday for several reasons.
Understand, the $91 million to be raised - yes, $91 million to be pulled from the pockets of Cape taxpayers who already paid once - will not buy even one foot of new pipe, add a single new lift station, or extend water and sewer services another street or two.
Nor will the money be used to install more wells or add additional sewage treatment capacity.
What the funds would be used for is debt reduction in hope of mitigating - but not eliminating - projected water and sewer rate increases for those already connected to city utilities.
To that end, it's nothing but an attempt to hide the cost ball under another cup, a legally questionable shell game that would allow officials to say they "held down rate increases" when all they really did was require subsidy money from a select group of taxpayers.
We urge our newly composed council to do what the previous board failed to do despite a 5-3 voting bloc to accomplish virtually anything: Develop and commit to a legitimate plan to address the real issues at hand. That's how to deal with spiraling rate increases and still meet the bond obligations for a multi-year, multi-million dollar utility expansion project stopped in mid course AFTER the city committed to building a new water plant to serve customers in the formerly scheduled expansion areas.
That's a pretty complex problem.
Re-assessing people who already paid once for a service they don't need is not the simple answer.
- Breeze editorial