Big fee increase is a big deal, council says

An official is told to return next week with more explanation for why a stormwater fee should triple.

Published August 26, 2005

TAMPA - A little fanfare.

That's what was missing Thursday as the City Council considered whether to triple Tampa's stormwater fee.

At least council member, Shawn Harrison, thought so.

Harrison glanced at an information packet handed out by city stormwater director Charles Walter and looked a bit surprised.

"Is this the extent of your presentation?" Harrison asked.

"Yes," Walter said.

Dozens of residents had packed council chambers to weigh in on the proposal, which would increase the fee, on average, from $12 to $36 a month.

"We're tripling a fee. We're tripling it," a visibly annoyed Harrison said. "I would think the folks in the audience would have a little more of a presentation."

Well, there was something bigger in January, Walter noted: a PowerPoint presentation that outlined a five-year plan for 30 stormwater projects.

Maybe he could replay that PowerPoint, council member Linda Saul-Sena suggested.

Couldn't a staff member bring over the CD?

"Politically," she said, "we're being asked to anger some members of the public with increasing this fee."

But the new stormwater fees weren't, technically, paying for those 30 new projects, Walter said. The money from the fees would pay for maintenance and operation of the existing stormwater system, freeing other money for improvements.

Still, that didn't satisfy the council.

"We're being asked to rubber-stamp something that I'm just not comfortable with the process," Harrison said. "I was fully expecting we were going to have a presentation today. I'm not saying that we're in the dark. I'm saying the public is in the dark."

Council member Rose Ferlita agreed.

"You want them to take for granted what you're doing is in their best interest," Ferlita said. "I'm having a hard time supporting this. It's not a good way to do business."

People had shown up at 9:30 a.m. expecting to give opinions on the fee increase. The council planned a discussion for 11. But it was 1:30 p.m., after an hour lunch break, before the item came up on the agenda.

A few residents stayed and accepted an invitation from the council to speak.

Council members postponed a vote and their own discussion until next Thursday's 1:30 p.m. meeting.

The meeting will be at City Hall, 315 E Kennedy Blvd.

The public is invited to offer comments.

And, yes, the stormwater department will give a presentation.