Brevard County commissioners late Thursday approved an increase in stormwater fees to help clean up the Indian River Lagoon.
According to Local 6 news partner Florida Today, the vote was 4-1, with Commissioner Trudie Infantini voting no.
The increase, to be phased in over the next three years, would total 78 percent above the current rate when fully implemented. The fee affects properties in unincorporated parts of Brevard County.
The 78 percent increase is equal to inflation since the rates were established.
Rates vary based on the type, size and drainage characteristics of a property.
Under the plan, the typical fee for a single-family residence would increase to $64 a year, up from the current $36.
It will increase to $52 in October 2014, remain at that level in October 2015, then increase to $64 in October 2016.
The statewide average for comparable stormwater fees is $70.52.
For some large commercial properties, the proposed fee increases could reach thousands of dollars.
Infantini said she could not vote for a fee increase, contending money for stormwater work could come from other parts of the county budget.
“I promised that I wouldn’t raise people’s taxes, and I plan to keep that promise,” Infantini said.
This will be the first increase since the stormwater fees were established in 1990. Money generated by the increase would help pay for projects designed to improve the condition of the Indian River Lagoon.
Commissioners voted unanimously to spend all the money generated by the fee increase on water-quality issues. Otherwise, half would have had to be used for flood-control issues.
Ernie Brown, the Brevard County Natural Resources Management Department director, said the money would be applied to using technology and programs to reduce future pollution; to remove existing pollution and sources of muck; and to restore the ecosystem.
Of the 49 members of the public who spoke at the meeting, 21 clearly supported the fee increase to clean up the lagoon.
Among them, Amy Tidd of Rockledge said action taken by the Brevard County Commission will give them the legacy “that you saved the Indian River Lagoon.”
Many opponents of the increase said that while they support the lagoon, the increase is too big.
The county currently collects $3.41 million a year from stormwater fees. The rate increase, when fully integrated, would raise that amount by $2.67 million.
Brown said, because fees have not increased in 24 years, the county has fallen behind in addressing flooding and water-quality issues.
“Inadequate water quality will continue to harm seagrass beds, and have negative impacts on fisheries, property values, recreation, wildlife and the overall economic vitality of the county,” Brown said in his report. “This will negatively impact the economic benefits provided by the St. Johns River and the Indian River Lagoon.”
The increased fees willhelp pay for adding filtering mechanisms to stormwater systems, plus a range of other projects to help remove nitrogen, phosphorus and other pollutants from runoff before it reaches the lagoon and other waters. Excess nitrogen and phosphorus can trigger toxic algae blooms that kill fish, manatees and other lagoon wildlife.
Commissioners decided against a suggestion by Brown to subsequently index the stormwater fee to the Consumer Price Index, “in order to keep up with inflation and ensure relatively constant buying power.”
Commissioners said that would be the decision of future commission members.
There are 103,690 commercial and residential properties in unincorporated Brevard affected by the county’s stormwater fees. Residents of Brevard’s cities and towns pay fees set by their municipal governments.
Virginia Barker, the Brevard County Natural Resources Management Department’s watershed program manager, said her agency has received nearly 500 calls, emails and letters from members of the public about the proposed increase. Of those, about half were from people with questions, but who didn’t express an opinion. She said the other half were roughly evenly split between people supporting the proposed rate increase and people against it.