Responding to funding needed for Palm Bay’s ailing stormwater infrastructure, on December 8, 2016 Palm Bay voters passed Referendum No. 7, allowing for a Special Assessment for roadways and stormwater.
PALM BAY REFERENDUM NO. 7
CHARTER AMENDMENT GOVERNING THE IMPOSITION
OF SPECIAL ASSESSMENTS
Shall section 6.02 of the City of Palm Bay charter be amended to provide that the City Council may impose special assessments for: (1) the construction, repair, and maintenance of roadways and all appurtenant facilities and infrastructure including sidewalks, greenbelts, and street lighting; and (2) the construction, repair, and maintenance of stormwater and wastewater management facilities, water supply and distribution systems, canals, and all appurtenant infrastructure, consistent with law or ordinance?
Yes: 25,848 / No: 21,889 = 47,737 / 54.15% Yes / 45.85%
With their new ability to “impose special assessments,” on July 6, 2017 the City Council voted three to two to impose a stormwater assessment. Protesters filled the Chamber and people were gathered outside in protest.
The City increased the annual rate currently being charged from $123.49 per ERU per year to $177.13 per ERU per year. [An ERU is a billing unit for the amount of stormwater runoff generated by the average-sized residential parcel in the City.]
That is a 43% increase.
Councilmen Brian Anderson, Tres Holton and Harry Santiago voted for the assessment. Mayor William Capote and Councilor Bailey opposed the assessment.
During the discussion prior to the vote for the assessment, Counselor Santiago said: “…we do something with a special assessment, which has to be specifically earmarked towards stormwater, if there is a stormwater assessment…”
According to Florida Today, Counselor “Bailey said the council in effect was passing the largest tax increase in Palm Bay history and that money should be found out of the current budget to fix the city’s stormwater woes, not through a new assessment.”
According to meeting minutes, “City Attorney Andrew Lannon stated that pursuant to Florida Statutes, any money raised from the Stormwater assessment must be spent on stormwater capital improvements and maintenance. The city was prohibited from using those funds for any other purpose.”
Counselor Holton asked Mt. Evan Rosenthal, an outside council for the City “if the Resolution as presented, was a legally defendable resolution [the assessment]. In his [Mr. Rosenthal’s] legal position, the Resolution was “legally defensible.”
The ball bounced again at the March 1, 2018 City Council meeting where the Council voted to transfer $ 120,000 from the storm water utility fund to a storm water defense fund to cover legal costs associated with the legality of the stormwater assessment.
The Council had voted for a stormwater assessment, but was it defensible as an assessment? The $ 120,000 transfer was cited to be lawful.
Remember Counselor Santiago had said: “..we do something with a special assessment, which has to be specifically earmarked towards stormwater, if there is a stormwater assessment…,”
Counselor Bailey suggested it be taken from general funds.
But City Manager Greg Lynx indicated the general fund was 10% below the required limit.
Counselor Bailey objected to the Referendum. He said when the voters in 2016 approved the ability of the City Council to levy a special assessment, “NOBODY VOTED FOR THE FEE THAT WE CHARGE.” (Emphasis added.)
He indicated that during his years of service he had never seen such an outpouring of opposition to the stormwater assessment at the July 6, 2017 City Council meeting, where the Council voted three to two to impose their assessment.
The next bounce was when in an August 16, 2018 article in by Amy Lyon of www.hometownnewsbrevard.com, “After a public hearing and lengthy discussion, the Palm Bay City Council has set the 2019 stormwater rate that will appear on property owners’ tax bills in October.
For the majority of property owners, this means a reduction from $177.13 to $153.13 this year.”
Councilman Brian Anderson recommended the reduction as a “statement to residents” that the city is being fiscally responsible with its stormwater fund. He also said the city can expect “a lot of new development that could justify this.”
Councilman Tres Holton voted against the reduction and new rate.
“Reducing the amount is not ultimately getting us to where we need to go on the capital outlay,” Councilman Holton said. “If we reduce the amount by an arbitrary number because it politically sounds good, it doesn’t actually get us to where we want to go.”
Councilman Jeff Bailey also voted against the reduction, because he thought the amount should be even lower, “under three digits”.
“This is a 30-year problem we’re trying to solve in five years,” said Councilman Bailey.
Essentially, doesn’t it seem the stormwater assessment is being used to defend the the Council’s ability to assess it?