When Safety Harbor officials first decided to implement a fee to help cover the annual costs of the city’s street lighting services beginning January 1, 2013, the proposal was met with opposition from commissioners and residents alike.
Flash forward four years, and the streetlight charge is still a cause of consternation.
The city commission approved the annual charge of $39.00 per Equivalent Residential Unit (ERU) for fiscal year 2016-17 last week, and as was the case when it was was first initiated, the fee is still a polarizing subject for many.
“I’m very much against doing the rates,” Commissioner Janet Hooper, who was not a member of the commission that originally approved the fee, said on September 19. “It feels like we’re nickel and diming the taxpayers, and that’s how I’ve always felt about this.”
“I realize when it was done was because they didn’t want to take money out of the reserves and we needed to balance the budget, but if you’re collecting taxes, I don’t understand why we then need to add a fee on top of it.”
Although the fee, which does not apply to every resident in the city, has been lowered from the original rate of $50.97 per ERU and currently averages out to $3.25 per month, others expressed agreement with Hooper’s position.
“For the record, I’m not a big fan of adding additional fees in the utility bill to cover what I think really should be in the ad valorem,” Vice-Mayor Andy Zodrow said. “I’m going to support this for this year, but that’s it.”
Despite the objections, the fee did garner support from the majority of the local lawmakers.
Commissioner Carlos Diaz said he agrees with the fee because it helps offset the annual costs associated with operating and maintaining the streetlights, estimated between $275,000 and $300,000, and Commissioner Cliff Merz and Mayor Andy Steingold said they also support the streetlight fee.
“I still support it,” Merz, who voted in favor of the original fee in 2012, said.
“I was a big proponent for it,” Steingold, who was mayor when the initial fee was enacted, added. “I thought that was the only way to spread the cost, was to have a fee.”
“I remember every year, pulling it out of reserves, but it got to the point where times were tough and we were trying to keep the millage rate low and property values were falling off that it only made sense to spread the cost.”
With no public comment related to the fee, the item passed by a vote of 4-1, with Commissioner Hooper casting the lone ‘nay’ vote.
With the streetlight fee nearing the end of its initial five-year trial period, the continuation of the fee will need to be addressed during budget discussions next spring, according to officials.
What do you think, Harborites? Are you in favor of the street light fee, or opposed to it? Let us know in the comments below.