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North 1 West utility expansion approved

Property owners turn out to protest assessments; Cape Council reiterates reasons to move forward

By CHUCK BALLARO - | Mar 23, 2023

For nearly 90 minutes, property owners voiced their disapproval of costs coming their way as the city of Cape Coral continues to bring water and sewer utilities into its northern neighborhoods.

Assessments of $33,000-plus are too high, especially now, in the wake of Hurricane Ian, residents said Wednesday, with many asking Cape Coral City Council to delay the expansion phase called North 1 West.

The elected board listened to the pleas from those who said the assessments would add hundreds to their monthly mortgage payments but voted 7-1 to move forward as the project likely would cost even more should the city delay.

Public Works Director Paul Klinghan and Finance Director Mark Mason provided the city presentation.

The total project, both the now approved North 1 West and its coming companion component North 1 East, is expected to cost $249.6 million, the most expensive UEP project phase in city history.

Most of the cost will be paid for by property owners through assessments and fees for each of three services: potable water, irrigation water and sewer services.

For the owner of a 10,000-square-foot lot, developed or not, the estimated total cost will be $33,367 if paid in full by Sept. 30.

During an interim prepayment period through July 31, 2024, the cost will be $35,390 if paid in full.

For those opting to make annual payments, which would begin November 2024, the annual cost will be $4,360 for a 20-year term, $3,986 for 25 years, and 3,734 for 30 years, the default setting. The latter option, at 6.5 percent annual interest, would cost a property owner $112,020.

These costs do not including the on-site plumbing and connection costs and septic tank abandonment.

This did not sit well with residents in the area and, while there were not a large number, those who spoke during the public hearing had a lot to say.

They said that after COVID and the hurricane, now is not the time to undertake such a project, and, with the cost being so high, many will have to move because of an inability to pay.

One resident said the assessment was really a non ad-valorem tax, which the city is abusing, and that legal action can be taken.

“This tax is skirting the Homestead laws. I believe there is a class-action suit there once people are damaged, which is right about now,” said resident Jason Sheldon.

Councilmember Patty Cummings agreed with the residents and asked Council to postpone the UEP for a year or two so residents can deal with the cost of hurricane recovery first.

There was no support on the dais where the process of approval has been moving forward for months, with the design work already paid for and construction ready to commence.

Councilmember William Steinke said that low interest rates seen in the past were very atypical and that gambling that rates and labor costs will decrease should the city wait is not a risk he would take.

“If the aquifers dry out and a moratorium was issued that we could no longer build homes here, what would your house be worth then?” Steinke said. “I would love to see a panacea of costs coming down. We can’t guarantee that. This job requires heads and hearts.”

Councilmember Dan Sheppard said past projects show that the extension of utilities helps homes build, and retain, their value.

“The best way to protect you is to give your home value. We’ve been told the wells are running dry. If they do, we could no longer build and nobody will want to build or live there,” Sheppard said. “I’m not going to tell you what you want to hear. People don’t want homes with wells or septic.”

Mayor John Gunter said costs normally continue to rise and that waiting will just see the prices go higher.

With that, the Council voted to approve the first of three final assessment resolutions (for potable water) 7-1, with Cummings dissenting.

The other two assessments, for wastewater and irrigation, as well as the construction contracts on the consent agenda, were passed unanimously.

“I understand the pain people will be going through, but this is necessary to keep Cape Coral moving forward,” said Councilmember Jessica Cosden, whose district is where the North 1 West UEP is headed.

Those who attended the meeting were upset, but not surprised by the decision.

“The outcome doesn’t surprise me. Everybody who came here knew the city had decided,” Sheldon said. “It’s odd the city is using non ad valorem taxes to skirt law and provide a benefit on someone’s property but which many said would destroy their property values.”