Five years in, street light fee still a polarizing subject in Safety Harbor
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.
I will offer one reason why breaking this out as a separate tax, and not lumping it in with a higher property tax as Zodrow opined, is not a bad idea. Certain entities do not pay property taxes, including non profits such as churches and Baycare (yes, we collect zero property taxes from Baycare). Collecting street light fees is a workaround to this, allowing some taxes (fees) to be generated from those property owners that the town would not otherwise receive revenue from. I have no idea how significant or insignificant this number is, and admittedly am not fully versed on this particular topic, but do know my facts stated above are accurate and is one point (among many points) to consider.
$3.25 per month is not that much to pay for the security the lights provide our streets. What I don’t like is that several downtown streets have no street lights at all , for public safety all streets lights should be mandatory. Maybe to be more echo friendly the lights should be LED lights like some of our neighboring cities have done.
“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.”
So only some of us are being charged this fee? That hardly seems fair that only some residents are paying this fee and others aren’t. What criteria is used to determined who is to be assessed this fee and who isn’t? It’s obviously not based on living in town or very near, because I am assessed the fee and live 2 miles from downtown. If you are going to assess residents a fee, then you need to assess ALL residents and not just some! Better yet, how about you don’t assess ANY residents for city owned street lamps that are the city’s responsibility to maintain with our tax dollars!
Hmmmm, I pay the fee. for streetlights on South Bayshore. It’s interesting that the two commissioners who thought I should pay for trimming of city owned mangroves, think I shouldn’t have to pay for the street lights, but then again, pay for a softball field I will never use. Golly, one would think “politics, as usual.” I have a solution, only pay for what you use when you use it. (I’m gone 6 months of the year so please turn off my street light when I’m gone.) Let’s start by charging elected officials rent for when their butts are in City owned chairs! All of this is of, course ridiculous, but so is the serious time wasting of elected officials. who are trying to keep six or seven local, loud voices happy.
Hmmmmm how about installing some solar panels somewhere and have them do the work and pay for the costs instead of making the people play.
I agree with Paul.
Ridiculous to have a separate fee and reserve for the cost of providing ongoing municipal services. It should be part of the total budget unless the council would consider reducing the level of service if the fee was not approved. I doubt there are many folks who care about which pocket the funds are taken from, as evidenced by the lack of any public comment. The initial deception where the mayor and council made it appear that they were keeping millage rates low, while adding this fee, was a smoke and mirrors show that has no place in municipal finance.
I am confused by the fee. We, in our neighborhood, Huntington Isles, pay the fee each month. When we asked for The City of Safety Harbor for new street signs( since our signs were falling own) we were told that Huntington Isles is a “Private Community ” so The City was not responsible for replacing out street signs. (We have since replaced our communities street name signs at our own expense.) Why then are we responsible for our monthly payments for the street lights in our “Private Community “? IF YOU can figure out this dichotomy, please explain! Thank you!!
I don’t like the fee at all based on principle. It’s basically a tax increase without calling it a tax increase. And it sets a bad precedent. What’s next? An sidewalk fee? A street repaving fee? A ditch mowing fee? An extra fee if you have a speed hump on your street?