City Council: Tampa flooding solution not good enough

A decision to raise storm water fees in Tampa has once again been put on hold.  City Council members said on Thursday they needed more time to weigh their options on the issue.

The city’s storm water drainage system is more than 100 years old and unable to accommodate severe rain event, such as the downpours that led to month-long flooding over the summer.

City Public Works officials have proposed a plan to thoroughly clean out the city’s ditches, ponds and street gutters in order to alleviate flooding.  The plan would cost $251 million, but according to city officials, the solution will only be effective during average summer rain, not big storms.

“I will guarantee that during a typical, afternoon thunderstorm, where we have two to three inches at a time, this plan will go a long way,” said Brad Baird, administrator for Tampa Public Works and Utilities.

“I need something that’s foolproof. If my house got a leaky roof and I repair the roof, I don’t expect it to leak again,” countered Councilman Charlie Miranda.

An average homeowner would see their storm water assessment increase from $36 to $82 in 2016. Homeowners could eventually pay $98 annually over the course of the seven-year project.

“There’s no doubt we’re between a rock and a hard place,” said Mike Peterson of the Greater Tampa Association of Realtors (GTAR). “It would put GTAR in an interesting position, to be running around promoting higher property taxes.”

Peterson said local realtors are concerned they will have to explain to future Tampa homeowners their storm water fees will get more expensive each year, but their driveways and garages could continue to flood.

Exceptions to the storm water fee would not be granted to non-profits, such as churches, according to the plan. Officials said it is not a tax. The fee is based on storm water usage, so the only exemption would be homeowners or businesses that apply for a mitigation credit.

To qualify, property owners must prove they are managing their own storm water, rather than allowing the water to flow into city streets. If they meet requirements, property owners could get anything from a 10- to 100-percent decrease in their storm water assessment cost.

“That money will then be taken out of the whole. Where will the money to replace that money come from?” asked Councilman Harry Cohen.

Councilwoman Lisa Montelione proposed extending the public hearing on the storm water issue until November 19, in order to get specific details on the mitigation credit.