Tampa stormwater fee hike axed; bumpy roads still need fixing

A plan to fix Tampa's flooding issue was voted down on Thursday at the Tampa City Council meeting.

The $251-million proposal to expand and repair portions of the city's storm water drainage system would have raised stormwater fees for residents.

Council Chairman Frank Reddick, as well as council members Charlie Miranda, Yvonne Yolie Capin and Guido Maniscalco voted against the plan out of concern that it would not completely fix the city's drainage issues during severe rain events and residents who do not have major flooding issues would also be expected to pay the additional fees.

Chairman Reddick stressed concern for his senior citizen constituents who can not afford the increase.

"They reminded me that they're on fixed income, that they're low income, and some of them are living off disability and Social Security, so those are some of my concerns," said Reddick.

The improvements would have taken six years to complete.

The city plans to move forward with its existing storm water maintenance fee approved in September, where residents of an average-sized home will see an increase from $36 to $82 per year.

After record-breaking rainfall and flooding during the summer, Tampa was also left with several road concerns, primarily potholes and pavement that has deteriorated.

City Transportation Manager Jean Duncan presented a 2013-2014 audit of the Transportation Department, which highlighted changes in the way city roads are surveyed.

Duncan said the city plans to review the condition of the roads every three years through Pavement Condition Index (PCI) Data, creating a ranking of the city streets most in need of repairs in order to determine which areas will get fixed first.

The audit also highlighted the department's mistake in purchasing a $540,000 paving machine two years ago that crews determined to be too large for most of the city's narrow residential streets.

While the machine has mainly sat idle, the city has used it for 1,100 hours of work, nearly meeting the 1,200 hours for industry standards of use.

Duncan said part of the reason the city has not been able to use the machine to lay asphalt is because it takes five people to run it, and with so many current road concerns, crews are stretched thin across the city.

Duncan was not in charge of the department at the time the decision was made to purchase the machine. She said three levels of management approved the decision.

"We've made sweeping changes, in a very positive way, and we feel that we've put that house back in order," said Duncan.

The Transportation Department is proposing selling the half-million-dollar machine for $126,000 in order to buy a new, smaller version that better fits city streets.

The council asked the department to present a report at their upcoming March 3 meeting to explain where the city currently stands with road improvements and how much money is need to move forward with fixing the roads.

The council also requested that Mayor Buckhorn's office examine who, among the previous transportation administration, was a part of the decision to buy the wrong machine, in order to make sure those people do not have a say in the future purchase of a new machine. The council wants the mayor's office to share its findings at their January 21 meeting.