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Utility discounts on table for Cape Coral churches

May 8, 2013


The word of the night was “discount” at a Cape Coral City Council special meeting Wednesday.

Pastors and other property owners came ready to present their case against a plan which would remove future contributions to institutional properties such as churches. Staff received direction from council to address how to finance the latest utilities expansion.

There were caveats. Specially, staff was directed to research large-parcel discounts — which could include the churches — within the expansion project zone known as Southwest 6 and 7. They also were told to look into the possibility of prepayment discounts for residents paying the full amount upfront.

The resolution passed 6-2. Mayor John Sullivan and Councilman Chris Chulakes-Leetz dissented.

“The churches provide a tremendous service for our residents in the city,” Sullivan said. “The more we lay down on them, the less they’ll be able to help.”

Church leaders cited a lawsuit settled outside of court in the ’90s that stipulated that churches could not be assessed for utilities using the same methods as single-family residential homes. Another case from around the same time had an opposite outcome, according to Chris Traber, special assessment bond counsel. It concluded that churches were not entitled to any more protections than any other entity.

A large-parcel discount would address the 11 churches within the boundary lines of the utilities expansion as well as may offer other large-parcel property owners some semblance of relief. An estimate for the overall cost to the average homeowner is estimated around $20,000.

Most of the homes and businesses in the expansion area have wells and septic systems and would be joining the utility system for the first time.

One leader from Trinity Lutheran Church spoke at the meeting and said his church got water and sewer in 2005. The Rev. Charles J. Kanefke said he called city officials, who told him his church is not included in the project though it was listed as such.

“I’m comfortable with the changes,” said Councilwoman Rana Erbrick. “I like including the discounts on the large-parcels. We as council, and everyone else in 6 and 7, need to understand what number is going to change for every other normal-sized lot.”

Historically, during utilities expansion projects, properties that fell into the category of institutional would receive an 85 percent discount — covered with monies from the city’s general fund — because they provided a “partial public benefit.”

The final assessment numbers are dependent upon the bids.

“If people have the money and want to prepay they should have a discount,” said Councilman Derrick Donnell, supporting the second caveat.

Conversation went on at length with two presentations on the methodology and financing for the utilities.

There are two components: the assessments that pay for water, sewer and irrigation line extensions and the Capital Facility Expansion charge, which pays for transmission and distribution. The city will utilize the second portion to reimburse itself for prior costs related to the utility plant facilities.

The 4-square-mile region of the most recent project includes 6,147 lots, about half of which are undeveloped.

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